Profile of Riedel Glas Austria

One of the most influential companies in the world of wine has never produced wine at all.  In fact, Riedel Glas Austria got its start several centuries ago, refining glassware and making window panes.  Today, Riedel is widely considered to have forever changed the way the world tastes wine.

Riedel Glas Austria

Riedel Glas Austria started in 1756 as a small glassmaking company in Bohemia (today's Czech Republic).  Managed by successive generations of Riedel family members, the company grew and expanded.  By 1877, Riedel employed 1,200 people, primarily making glass beads and blanks – pieces of glass used by other businesses to make finished products.  The Riedel family's commitment to innovation manifested itself in generation after generation; for example, Josef Riedel "the Younger," who died in 1924, developed over 600 colors for glass.

As the clouds of war crept across Europe in the 1930s, Riedel began producing picture tubes for use in radar systems instead of its then-signature perfume vials and chandeliers.  As World War II ended, the Czechoslovakian government nationalized the company and dispossessed the Riedel family.  In 1956, Walter Riedel, who had survived Russian forced labor and was, with his son Claus, friends with members of Austria's Swarovski family, accepted the Swarovskis' offer to begin operations in a previously-closed factory in Kufstein, and Riedel Glas Austria was born.

In 1961, Claus Riedel created what is now the Riedel signature wine glass, a thin, plain, blown glass bowl with a slender stem.  When his son, Georg Josef, assumed management of Riedel in 1987, he greatly expanded the company, opening divisions in the U. S., U. K., Japan, Canada and Germany, aggressively marketing an expanding line of stemware.  Under Georg Josef's direction, Riedel also bought the Nachtmann Group, which included rival glassmaker Spiegelau.

Today, Riedel makes wine glasses matched to specific varietals as well as glassware intended for sommeliers, restaurants, serious wine collectors and casual wine drinkers.  The stemless "O" wine glass, designed by Maximilian Riedel, the 11th generation's rising star, marked another departure – and a popular one – for Riedel.  The latest Riedel innovations include the "Swirl" stemless glasses and a matching decanter.

The Riedel Tasting Experience

The Riedel approach to creating stemware includes developing bowl shapes to match specific wines, from Albariño to Bordeaux to Zinfandel.  According to Riedel's website, the shape of the bowl directs the wine onto a specific part of the tongue, amplifying the taste and allowing you to more fully experience the wine's aromas and flavors.  Because the bowl is matched to a specific varietal, the wine is properly aerated and the aromas are concentrated correctly.

Riedel's enormous influence on wine tasting and stemware has ensured the company a place in the annals of wine history.  Wine drinkers are increasingly choosing glasses with plain, clear bowls rather than colored glass or cut crystal, and Riedel is largely responsible for this shift in preference.  Riedel offers both hand-blown and machine-made glassware, so shoppers in high-end department stores, big-box stores and everywhere in between can now choose from among several Riedel stemware lines.

Riedel and Wine

Fans of Riedel wine glasses agree that the company's innovative designs have changed their wine experiences.  For example, wine writer Monika Elling, CEO of Foundations Marketing Group and founder of WinePro911, says that the Riedel tasting experience is different – and superior – not only for high-end wines but also for wines we drink every day.  "Riedel conducts seminars for trade and consumers where standard glassware is used in comparison with Riedel for the very same wines.  There is no comparison whatsoever," says Elling, adding, "and anyone who tries this test at home will be able to duplicate the experience."

Laura Mohseni, General Manager – Winery Division, of Riverbench Vineyard and Winery, agrees that Riedel's influence has great significance.  "Riedel has truly revolutionized the way we view wine drinking," she says.  "As wine becomes a more popular beverage," Mohseni adds, "people look for new ways to enjoy it, and Riedel's glassware has added a whole other dimension."

While wine experts acknowledge that Riedel has strongly influenced the ways we enjoy wine, not all agree on the ultimate effects of the Riedel experience.  Lynn Hoffman, author of The New Short Course in Wine, says that Riedel has brought the wine glass into the conversation.  "For many people, they brought up the question of the right glass, and in doing so they forced us to pay attention to the glasses we use," he says.  "Anyone who has ever poured the same wine into two different glasses and tasted them side-by-side is paying tribute to Riedel."  However, Hoffman disagrees with Riedel's assertion that we experience specific wine tastes on different areas of the tongue.  "In general, we taste most tastes everywhere on the tongue," he says.

Certified Sommelier and Certified Specialist of Wine Elizabeth Schneider, who writes about her passion at Wine for Normal People, agrees that Riedel has had an impact on wine tasting, but not necessarily a positive one.  While she appreciates the quality of Riedel stemware, Schneider believes that the variety of Riedel glassware styles and price levels has introduced uncertainty into the purchasing process.  "The fact that they [Riedel] have proliferated their line creates stress and confusion for consumers," says Schneider, adding that there are so many different types of Riedel wine glasses that even experienced wine tasters are looking for guidance.  Consumerism is also part of the equation, according to Schneider, and the choices available today tend to cause stress, particularly in the younger generations of wine lovers.  "People don't want as much stuff," she says, and simplification is a "huge consumer trend."  Schneider, who says she gets questions about purchasing glassware at every wine tasting she conducts, believes we are in a time period when many consumers want to minimize their footprints.  Given this trend, Schneider wonders what Riedel's next steps will be.

The Bottom Line

Wine experts agree that Riedel has transformed the way we taste and experience wine.  Riedel's pioneering approach to the wine tasting process changed our views on stemware.  Wine glasses are no longer insignificant accessories.  Properly-chosen wine glasses offer us the opportunity to perceive wine with all of our senses, and we owe this experience to Riedel.

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