Choosing wine glass tastefully has me tongue-tied

HAPPY EATER

December 08, 1993|By ROB KASPER

Can an old tongue learn new tricks? Lately I have been trying to train my tongue to be in the best position to taste the various types of wine I throw its way.

Your red Bordeaux and your California Cabernets, for instance, are supposed to land in the middle of the tongue. By landing there the tongue theoretically gets a clean shot at the fruit flavors of the red wines. Meanwhile, your Rieslings are supposed to splash down on the tip of tongue. This landing spot is where the sweet flavors of the wine are detected. By stopping first at the tip of the tongue, the wine's sweet notes, I am told, have a better chance of overriding the acidic flavors of the wine.

Burgundies are supposed to trickle along the tongue, starting first on the sweet spot, the tip, then meandering to the back and sides of the tongue, home of the acid-loving taste buds.

That is the tongue-spot theory, anyway. I read about it in a brochure telling me which type of wine glass should be used to serve which wine. It was put together by Baccarat Inc., the folks who make the world-famous crystal glasses, and by Kobrand Corp., a house of fine wines. The idea of the brochure seemed to be that a good wine glass was like a tour guide for the tongue, directing visitors to precisely the right spot.

Take, for example, the Baccarat crystal glass used to serve Chardonnay at the palace in Monaco. The glass has a relatively narrow mouth that directs the wine to the center of the tongue, which according to the brochure, is the prime landing spot for the fruity flavor of the Chardonnays.

That, no doubt, was one reason that Princess Grace picked the glass in 1969 to be used for Chardonnay soirees in Monaco. That, and the fact that the glass is a good "swisher." That is my term for a glass that lets you swirl the wine around in it without spilling. Chardonnay drinkers like to swish their wine, because the swirling action helps the bouquet of the grapes to emerge. That's another way of saying swishing makes the wine smell better.

For Reislings and sweeter wines, you would want a crystal wine glass with a rim flaring out. The outward flare of the glass, according to the brochure, "tends to direct" the wine to the tip of the tongue, the area specializing in detecting sweetness. Thanks to glasses with tapered tops, Cabernets and Bordeaux touch down first on the middle of the tongue, prime zones for fruit and tannin taste buds. These tapered-top red wine glasses are tall, but not too tall. If the glasses were ungainly they might collide with the wine drinker's nose. That would be bad form. Some people who buy crystal have paid good money for their noses.

My favorite wine glass was the one with the balloon-shaped bowl. It is supposed to be used for Burgundies and Pinot Noirs, red wines that need a lot of room to air out. The balloon shape gives them that. Moreover, the brochure said, the large curving sides of the glass lead the wine along, taking it from the sweet zone at the tip of the tongue and then meandering to the back of the tongue. I took this to mean that when a fine wine is traveling over your tongue, timing is everything.

The bubbles in champagne take care of moving it over the tongue. This means that the big concern in champagne glasses is how they show off the bubbles. Glasses shaped either like a tulips or like V's encourage the bubbles to make a sustained, picturesque journey to the top of the glass. They are smiled upon.

Glasses with tops shaped like saucers are incorrect and have a risque past, the brochure said. According to champagne lore, the original saucer shape was molded from the breast of Helen of Troy. Later Marie Antoinette ordered a new glass, designed along her lines. Marie's was bigger.

I found this "Clear Choices" brochure (available from Kobrand Corp., Public Relations Department. 134 E. 40th St. New York, N.Y. 10016) interesting reading. But I had to adjust its advice to fit my lifestyle.

At my house we don't drink wine from specially designed crystal glasses. We feel lucky when we find two wine glasses that match. But ever since I learned that the Chardonnay should land on the center of my tongue and the Reisling should touch down on the tip of tongue, I have been trying to make changes in my wine-drinking style.

I still use my same old glasses to drink various types of wines. But now when the wine changes, I move my tongue to a different position.

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