Silver goblets have shed their armour for crystal bodies. Shallow champagne coupes have sprouted into elegant flutes. Decanters are twisting their way into zany new shapes. The way we drink has changed, and thanks to Maximilian Riedel, it will continue to do so.
The 11th generation CEO of Austrian glassware titan Riedel was personally responsible for introducing the stemless O series (despite his grandfather’s tradition-led protests), the patented snake-shaped Eve decanter and its aerating technology, and the Riedel Restaurant collection that caters exclusively to restaurants with its shorter stems and wider bases — thus earning the company 40 per cent more business. And he’s far from done.
“The traditional champagne flute shape is just not doing its job,” he says. “It’s great for hotel service because you can carry many of them on a tray and a little can look like a lot in that glass, but it’s difficult to smell and taste the wine.”
Despite the flute’s ability to retain bubbles, he explains, its restrictive shape means that flavours of yeast will dominate over fruity ones. And that is how the slightly tulip-shaped champagne glass from Riedel’s ultra-light Veritas collection came to be. Attacking these nuances in wine appreciation is how new collections and shapes emerge at Riedel, and it’s often wine producers themselves who commission the company for specific glass sets.
In fact, you will probably have heard of Riedel’s signature Sommelier line, a collection of varietal-specific glasses created by Maximilian’s father Georg, which caters to everything from syrah to pinot noir. “They will complicate your life,” Maximilian admits. “But these are instruments of pure function. They’re not just aesthetic.”
Maximilian has taken it a step further by extending the company’s philosophy to non-vinous clients such as beer brewers, and coffee makers like Nespresso. “My next big dream is to develop a glass for tea. Not a cup, but a glass for Japanese matcha,” he says. “Like wine, spirits and coffee, matcha is drunk neat, and is always prepared the same way at the same temperature.” This evenness allows a glass to better enhance the liquid it holds.
But for all the innovations he and his family have pioneered, Maximilian believes there are still many frontiers in glassware to explore. “If you compare wines from the ’80s to the ones today, you’ll notice that the alcohol levels have increased by 20 to 30 per cent. Will our glasses hold up against future changes?”
Riedel will not, however, succumb to trends to sell more glasses. “We’re not in the fashion business, we’re in the tool business. We are all about how we can enhance what you put in your glass. A hammer has looked the same for the last 20,000 years and while it went from wood to metal, a hammer is still a hammer, a nail is a nail, and a glass is a glass.” That may be true, Maximilian, but you’ve taught us that not all glasses are created equal.