The Breathable Crystal Showdown
One is an industry titan, with a successful family line of 11 generations running the show. The other is a relative newcomer, only coming into the industry a little over 50 years ago. Upstart Eisch launched its Breathable Glassware line almost 5 years ago, creating such a stir that industry leaders Riedel saw fit to sue them in the German courts for fraudulent claims. Wine stemware that can aerate a wine in just 4 minutes, equivalent to an hour in a decanter? That sounds like a new line of 7-Minute Abs! I decided to test this claim head-on, bringing in some trusty vinopanions to bolster my range of opinions.
The crystal and stemware battles have been waged for hundreds of years throughout Europe. The Riedel family has been dominant, with young scion Maximilian beginning to take full control of the longtime family operation, starting with his innovative (and personal favorite) “O” Series of stemless crystal wine glasses. In 2004, German glassware producer Eisch launched their Breathable Glass, at no less an auspicious event than at the 25th Anniversary of the Robert Parker Wine Advocate Festival at the CIA in St. Helena, CA. It would be difficult to raise a higher profile any quicker in the wine industry and Riedel soon filed suit, alleging that Eisch made false claims about their glass’ ability to aerate a wine in a seemingly impossible amount of time.
I’ve used the Eisch glasses many times over the last couple years while tasting through the large and very diverse selection of wines at my favorite wine bar, Artisan Wine Lounge & Café in Walnut Creek, CA. Utilizing a proprietary technology, the Breathable Glasses are made from lead-free crystal and then undergo “an oxygenizing [sic] treatment” for its aeration properties. I wanted to actually test whether these glasses really do “open up” a wine 15x faster than a normal wine glass!
I gathered a small group of friends and family that collectively have a wide range of wine tasting experience and brought them down to my preferred drinking establishment, Spoontonic Lounge, also in Walnut Creek. We tested my favorite glass, the Riedel O Cab/Merlot glass against the Eisch Red Wine Breathable glass ( a sample I received from Balzac Communications) with two different wines. The first was a young value-driven Cab, the 2007 Snap Dragon California Cabernet Sauvignon and the second, an older high end wine, the 2003 St. Supéry Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
As instructed, the glasses were both washed with a mild dish soap and then rinsed multiple times with hot water and allowed to dry. They have similar bowls and while the O glass does not have a stem, I chose this glass as it is the same that I use daily at home, so I’m very familiar with how wines respond to its shape and size. I was first up and I dived into the ’07 Snap Dragon after first swirling both glasses an equivalent amount and letting the wines sit for 2 minutes, the minimum amount recommended by Eisch. I tasted from the Riedel first and found good plush, yet tart cherry and raspberry in the nose, along with a slight hint of fresh garden herbs. The aroma profile was quite different in the Eisch, where the wine smelled much more fruit forward, with rich, bright Bing cherry fruit in the Breathable Glass. The palate also showed some interesting differences, with the Riedel tasting full and balanced, with bright cherry fruit, but the Eisch portrayed a darker fruited palate, with more earthiness and less tannin, but retaining the good acidity. I had entered this tasting with a rather healthy dose of skepticism, but here I already saw significant differences between the two glasses, with the Eisch showing more traditional characteristics of an aerated wine, such as full open fruit and more integrated tannins. What did the rest of the panel think?
Jeff was next, as Co-Owner and Founder of the establishment that we were using, Spoontonic Lounge and while a fan of wine, he is just now exploring its many delights. He found the Snap Dragon to be “somewhat mellow and slightly acidic with nothing immediate” in the Riedel, and “more intense and amplified” and had a lot more “pop,” s in the Eisch. Interestingly, Jeff went on to say that as a bartender, he’d actually *not* want to serve his “cheap wine” in the Eisch, as he wouldn’t “wanna point out its flaws!” My wife Beth was next, a longtime wine drinker, but nowhere near as obsessive as I am about the drink. She found that her nostrils burned in the Riedel, with “Squeaky undertones and oak” in the nose of the wine in the Riedel, but then some cherry and a crisper sensation in the Eisch. The Eisch made the wine “spicier” on the palate and “milder and more muted in the O Series glass.” Judging by their comments, I would say that the Eisch, again showed a more open wine…very interesting! All three of us tasted the Snap Dragon between 2 and 12 minutes after being poured into each glass.
The more aged, finer wine of the night, the ’03 St. Supéry had a more pronounced difference between the two glasses. I found the nose in the Eisch to be much bigger and more pronounced than the Riedel, anise very much in the fore and plusher red fruit. The palate was more tannic in the Riedel and then an interesting pine/minty taste in the mid-palate for the Eisch. Both finished beautifully with a chocolate and espresso finish surrounding a chalky, red-fruited finish. A yum, in both cases! Jeff found the wine to be full and to be “mild, smooth and plummy, as well as slightly herbal” in the Riedel, and “Sweet, robust and full” in the Eisch, with a “grainy, complex” mouthfeel.
Our last friend of the night, Jade decided to enter the discussion at this point, her more of newer discoverer of wine. She only tasted the St. Supéry and found more tannins and a sulfuric bite on the palate in the Riedel. She was much more enamored with the Eisch, finding the wine “better this way.” She went on to say that while the St. S was a “good wine” in the Riedel, it becomes a “great wine” in the Eisch. Done and done!
While quite small, this sample set of four wine drinkers definitely found the Eisch to be the preferred glass for wine-drinking (unless you own a bar and don’t carry fine wine!). I was extremely skeptical of the claims by Eisch before this test and I have been a longtime devotee of Riedel. As such, I found it surprising that I enjoyed the wine better in the Breathable Glass. The O Series glasses are by no means the best line of crystal from Riedel and I did not compare to one of Riedel’s higher-end lines of stemware. Yet, you can find the Eisch for as low as $12 in California, which is right around the O Series price point, so I think this was a fair test. Ultimately, though, the proof is in the glass and you should try your own test to see which stemware caresses your palate the best!
–Ward Kadel is the West Coast Ambassador & Staff Blogger for WineLog.net. He will try any and all wines and tends to write about the parts of his life that include wine…like virtually all of it! He and his wife grew up in Napa and Sonoma and they still live nearby in the Bay Area.