A few years back, a modest movie took the wine world by storm thanks to its realistic portrayal of the business side of the industry.This was a documentary, "Mondovino," which warned against the growing globalization in the world of wine.
A few years back, a modest movie took the wine world by storm thanks to its realistic portrayal of the business side of the industry.
No, not “Sideways.”
This was a documentary, “Mondovino,” which warned against the growing globalization in the world of wine. Among its most riveting scenes, “Mondovino” depicted Michel Rolland, the self-styled “flying winemaker,” a bearded, slightly sinister Frenchman who consults for 100 wineries in 12 countries.
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His mission? To help international wineries create riper fruit and therefore “better” wines, with deep color, concentrated flavors and an “international” style. Wines that might sacrifice their inherent terroir, or sense of place, but potentially score higher in the Wine Advocate newsletter, whose powerful editor, Robert Parker, has a penchant for “big” red wines.
The controversy over Parker’s palate aside, one thing in particular fascinated me as I watched Rolland tasting through the barrels before pronouncing judgment. With each of his clients, he inevitably barked the word “micro-oxygenation.” Micro-oxygenation became not only a mantra but a running joke throughout “Mondovino.”
I later learned that micro-oxygenation sounds just like what it is — the process of pumping mini bubbles of air through a barrel of wine to both soften its tannins and enhance its flavors.
And to be fair to Rolland, wine lovers micro-oxygenate, or aerate, their wines in many different ways. The simple act of swirling a wine in the glass brings it into contact with more oxygen before we lift it to our noses to sniff, then sip, then swish it around our mouths (additional oxygenation!) so we can more easily detect its nuances.
Slurping, or pulling the wine into the mouth along with a breath of air, is another way oenophiles aerate a wine. Aeration is what we’re after when we decant younger wines by pouring them into a wide-mouthed vessel.
Thoughts of micro-oxygenation came to mind when a news release for a new wineglass crossed my desk. Produced by Eisch Glaskultur, a third-generation German glass factory (www.eisch.de), the Breathable Glass was introduced to the United States in 2004 at the Culinary Institute of America in the Napa Valley. Wines poured into Breathable Glasses purportedly aerate within two to four minutes, rather than the one to two hours it would take to decant them the old-fashioned way.
The Breathable Glass is specially designed to accentuate the character of the wine varietal it holds — the same concept behind stems manufactured by competitors Riedel, Spiegelau and Schott Zwiesel. What supposedly sets the Eisch glass apart, causing the wines within them to achieve almost immediate oxygenation, is the “special proprietary oxygenizing treatment” it undergoes, a rather mysterious-sounding process that treats the glass with “oxygen waves,” according to the media materials.
Intrigued, I trotted to Macy’s and purchased a couple of Bordeaux glasses for $19.99 a stem. Straight out of their sturdy cardboard tubes, the Eisch glasses stood head and shoulders above my Riedel stemware — a full 1 ¼ inches taller, with a broader, more pronounced bowl that bows out at the bottom.
That very evening, we put the brash Breathables up against the reliable Riedels with a bottle of Maryhill Winery 2004 Proprietor’s Reserve Syrah ($36). Like many of the reds from this impressive Columbia Gorge winery, the syrah is bright with big black-fruit flavors and a long finish. An award-winning wine, it would probably taste good served ice cold in a jelly jar.
Full of hope, I poured about an inch of wine into both the Riedel and the Eisch glasses and waited four minutes. We swirled and sniffed, sipped and swallowed, but, truth be told, neither my husband nor I could detect much difference between the two. Undaunted, the next evening we opened a bottle of Powers Winery 2004 Syrah ($14) from the Columbia Valley, a wine we’ve long admired for its lush black fruit, restrained use of oak and reasonable price. This time there was a discernible difference. While the wine in the Riedel glass showed the syrah’s inherent dark fruit, the wine in the Eisch glass seemed kicked up a notch, the fruit brighter (with lots of sweet-cherry notes) yet somehow more focused. I was impressed.
Eisch claims that the Breathable Glasses improve many beverages (even orange juice), and produces espresso cups and other glasses. I love sake, so one evening we repeated the testing with Eisch and Riedel Champagne/Sparkling Wine glasses and a bottle of Sho Chiku Bai Nigori Sake. Produced in Berkeley, Calif., by Takara Sake USA Inc., this unfiltered, sweet sake is best served with spicy foods or as a dessert wine, and retails for $4.99 per half bottle.
This time, our comparison led to a real revelation. While the sake in the Riedel glass had the characteristic melon-y, yeasty, sweet nose of nigori sake, the fruit aromas and flavors in the Eisch glass seemed more pronounced, the sweetness less cloying. Each sip simultaneously satiated my palate and refreshed it — making me want more.
Bottom line of our informal testing? Whether you sip from Eisch Glaskultur’s Breathable Glasses or stick with workhorses such as Riedel, a good-quality wine glass is worth the investment. Its aesthetics, special varietal design, stability for swirling and even just the way it feels in your hand totally enhance the wine-drinking experience. Besides, a good-quality wine glass is the perfect low-tech way to micro-oxygenate.
Braiden Rex-Johnson is the author of seven books, including “Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining,” and serves as food-and-wine-pairing columnist for Wine Press Northwest magazine. Ken Lambert is a Seattle Times staff photographer.