Riedel vs. Eisch Tasting @ Spoontonic Lounge PPOne 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!

Eisch Breathable GlassI 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?

Riedel "O" SeriesJeff 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.

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  • http://ithacork.wordpress.com Tom Mansell

    Riedel and Eisch have a long history of using pseudoscience to sell glassware and the absurdity of Riedel suing Eisch for making bogus claims is mind-boggling. The reason these glasses sell so well is because wine tasting is extremely subjective and human beings have very powerful confirmation bias. Plus, they look very pretty.

    Some things to consider when performing this test on your own:

    The problem with comparing glassware and the effect thereof on aroma, taste, etc. is that there is no way to do it blind. The aesthetics of the glassware will *always* influence people’s choices.

    It’s not surprising that the aroma would be different between the Riedel and Eisch, any more than it would be if you compared one Riedel O to another Riedel O. As we sniff, our brains adapt to specific aromas and that adaptation allows us to perceive others. This is likely a contributing factor to how wine “evolves in the glass”.

    Moreover, more than the “breathability” of the glass, the *shape* of the glass will influence perception, since different shapes allow for different amounts of headspace, which will affect the overall concentration of aroma compounds in the glass, and therefore perception of those aromas.

    Furthermore, no matter what everyone in the universe seems to say about aeration of wine “softening tannin”, there’s just no scientific basis for it. Oxygen does contribute to decreases in perceived tannin as tannins condense and drop out of the wine over time, but the time scale is over days to months and definitely not 2-12 minutes.

    Here’s how I would have done this test:

    (1) Include more controls, including other types of wine glasses (the bar’s standard glass, for example), and hell, why not a red Solo cup?
    (2) Don’t tell participants which glasses are Riedel, Eisch, or Walmart brand. Don’t mention the brands at all.
    (3) Get 2 Eisch breathable glasses and wrap the outside of one in a rubber glove or some other air-impermeable material. That should prevent oxygen from entering “through the glass”. Again, though, it would be tough to avoid confirmation bias in this case, since you would be able to see the glove. Maybe if you Shellac the outside of the glass or something.
    (4) Alternatively, if you *really* wanted to test the claims of aeration from the Eisch glass, pour into the Riedel and the Eisch, wait the 2-4 minutes instructed, then carefully transfer to neutral, third-party glasses and taste.

    I like that the claims of these glassmakers are being put to the test, and I applaud the author’s willingness to do so. I would love to see more of this. However, while the author’s “healthy dose of skepticism” was commendable, I think he may need to up the dosage.

  • http://www.greghirson.com/blog Greg

    Tom,

    I second your suggestion of more controls. I would take it even further.

    After letting the wine sit and/or swirl in these glasses for some amount of time (say 5 minutes), transfer them into two identical glasses produced by another manufacturer. If the glass is actually “oxygenating” the wine, it will happen in the liquid phase, and the effect should change the wine even if transferred to another glass. Then the glasses can be really randomized and the treatment anonymized for a better controlled study. I have a feeling that once this is done, the effect will disappear. Never underestimate the power of expectation bias.

    In my study on wine glass shape, I went as far as blind folding panelists and holding up the glass to their nose so they had no indication of what glass they were smelling out of.

  • http://ithacork.wordpress.com Tom Mansell

    Greg:

    Wow, I suppose blindfolding is one way to control for the aesthetics, but how to get them to taste? Crazy straws?

    Also, I’m glad we are on the same page here, see #4.

  • http://www.greghirson.com/blog Greg

    Tom,

    Ah. Step 1. Always read previous posts twice.

    I did an aroma-only study, so no tasting. That would have been difficult…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003407235092 Daphne

      Re-reading this, I remembered Hush Heath’s Balfour Rose (sparkling) [from Kent]Really, relaly good. Even when compared with Champagnes at the same price point. And BA serve it in First Class so no one will call you pikey for giving them english plonk instead of the real stuff . Yum. So yum I’m off to waitrose to buy a bottle .

  • http://www.newyorkcorkreport.com Evan Dawson

    The author referred to the sample size as “quite small.” I would amend that to read, “small enough to mean essentially nothing, even before factoring in other conditions that would engender bias.” I’m all for empirical data, but this is one drop in a stainless steel tank. You’d need to conduct tastings dozens of times with much better controls — the previous commenters offer a good start when they suggest not informing guests about the differences in the glass (or at least the themes and ostensible differences).

  • http://www.balzac.com Michael Wangbickler

    Ward: Thanks for the great article.

    Tom and Greg: I definitely understand your skepticism. I encounter it all the time. But once people try the glass for themselves, they are usually convinced. Eisch has done experiments in controlled settings in the past. A few years ago, they did such an experiment with Master Sommelier/Master of Wine Ronn Wiegand and Gordon Burns, President and Technical Director at ETS Laboratories. The test was done at the lab.

    Here is what Gordon said:

    “The tasting left me convinced that Breathable Glass can have an almost immediate sensory impact across several wine types and glass shapes.
    In broad terms, aromas and flavors of wines poured to the Breathable Glass were more integrated and harmonious than those of wines poured to traditional glasses. For example, a somewhat out of balance Chardonnay exhibiting excessive oak in the traditional glass was rounder and the oak less obtrusive in the Breathable Glass. In the tasting truly defective wines were not “cured”, but sound wines were enhanced.”

    After the initial tests, Ronn Wiegand experimented with the glasses over a longer period. And here was his conclusion:

    “I wanted to update you about my on-going experiences with the range of “Breathable” glasses you sent to me 18 months ago.

    At that time, I said that I was impressed with how the glasses have a positive and immediate impact on nearly every newly opened wine I sampled (after 2 to 5 minutes, that is) in them.

    Well, after a year and a half of using these “Breathable” glasses on a daily basis–on hundreds and hundreds of red, white, and rose wines from around the world–I will say that my opinion has only strengthened: the glasses are remarkable.

    They are amazingly effective in helping wines taste smoother, fruitier, and more forward when poured from a freshly opened bottle.”

    I would be happy to send you each a sample of the glass to try for yourselves.

  • Ashlynkat

    I think color me a skeptic too on this. While I’m willing to believe that bowl shape and curvature can have influence on the wine….I just can’t quite take the jump to believing that the glass is aerating the wine any differently than another glass.

    I agree with the ideas of doing a control by transferring to a neutral glass but one other idea would interest. Since Eisch is claiming superior aerating qualities, sample the wine poured into different glasses at different intervals. Like say wait 15 minutes for a standard wine bar glass, 10 minutes for the Reidel 0 and then 5 minutes for the Eisch. If you are paying for the benefit of the Eisch aerating your wine quicker then theoretically, it should be tasting better or at least the same than the wine that has been aerating longer in the other glassware.

  • Paul Rickett

    I did a ‘taste-off’ last year with the Eisch, Riedel O and a standard wine glass with a Cycles Gladiator Cab Sav. My subject taster was my wife who is not a wine-person and who was unaware of the difference between the glasses. I poured the initial servings from a freshly opened bottle (no bottle breathing)

    Our non-scientific results.

    1. Her initial comment was “Why did you open 3 bottles of wine?
    2. She thought both the Riedel and the Eisch were very superior in taste and bouquet to the standard glass.
    3. She preferred the taste in the Eisch Glass (I preferred the Riedel). But I thought the Eisch had a fruitier bouquet.
    4. After about an hour we repoured and ALL glasses were much closer in taste and aroma, but the Riedel had an edge (she didn’t know which was which). My speculation is that the Eisch continues to aerate every time so combined with bottle breathing it accelerates the oxydization beyond prime conditions.

    Our conclusion; for open, pour and drink (standard consumer behaviour) the Eisch delivered best immediate results.

  • http://www.SavvyTaste.com Mac McCarthy

    Very very interesting. Baffling, b ut interesting. I wonder what the heck they *mean* by ‘breathable crystal?’ — surely not that air is penetrating the glass! that *would* be miraculous!
    mac

  • Scott

    let me see…. 1 – 2 min = 2 – 4 hours…. 10 – 20 min = 20 – 40 hours…. drink quick or there will be nothing left!!!

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  • Chris Simmons, CSW

    I believe the oxygenation process done to the glassware actually imparts some sort of free oxygen or oxygen radical to the liquid in the glass(either directly from the glass or by “trapping” oxygen compounds on the inner surface of the glass). This would seem to me to be a chemical modification of the liquid in the glass, similar to the micro-oxygenation used in wine making, and it takes about 2 minutes of contact with the glass for the chemical reactions to take place. I would suggest trying it with other beverages to see if there is a real effect or just a sensory biased effect.

    One experiment no one mentioned is to actually compare the glassware against decanted or aerated wine and see if the effect is the same as the claim they are making. Tasting different in a different glass has been Riedel’s claim all along and has nothing to do with any sort of treatment to the glass.

    Chris

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  • http://www.winelog.net/blogs/drxeno Ward Kadel – drXeNo

    Hello All! Thank you for all of the great, intelligent comments on my article. Let me see if I can answer some of them a little further.

    Tom & Greg:
    Some really great points here. While I didn’t try to imply that wine is nothing but *always* different in each different glass, yes, you hit upon the clear weakness of any of these comparisons: bias. I think Greg managed to come up with some great ways to avoid bias in his description of his own tests on glass shape, but again, as you pointed out Tom, there’s really no way to avoid those when actually tasting the wine. As an aside, Greg, I think I might want to follow up with you on your comparisons as they sound really intriguing and possibly good for a companion article on Palate Press or my own site at WineLog.net. I am well aware that there has been no scientific evidence for oxygen actually softening tannins, UCDavis has done a lot of great work on that subject over the last couple of decades. I don’t have an explanation for that phenomena.
    Tom, I specifically tried to normalize the time factor by timing the tastings for each person to the second after pouring so that they were tasting the wines at the same chronological time, normalized by pour time. Therefore, when Jade tasted from Glass 1, it was the same amount of time after pouring as when she then tasted from Glass 2. As for the shape of the glass, both the Eisch and the O Cab/Merlot are very similar in shape, which was why I chose that as the comparator. I’m not however, willing to shellac the glasses, sorry. The last point, incubating the wine for a set amount of equal time in each glass and then pouring into two new, identical third glasses is brilliant and I wish that I had thought of that, thank you!

    Evan: The n of this study is minuscule and far below any chance of statistical relevance. As a scientist in my day job, this was a prime point of personal frustration. After consulting my biostatistical colleagues however, the number of variables would require a study that included sampling subjects in the hundreds…remarkably far beyond the scope of this article. As such, this article is clearly anecdotal and was declared, just as much. The last paragraph spells this out in crystal clarity (hah!) that these were our own results and that you should make your own tests to determine which glasses your own palate prefers.

    Paul: Verrry interesting. Now I want to try this again with a much longer incubation time!

    Ashlynkat, Mac, & Chris: Chris Interesting theory! I don’t think that a free oxygen radical is entering the wine, but I do believe that the surface of the glass, on the microscopic level, has billions of indentations that can trap more oxygen than the standard glass at the time of pour and also increases surface area by a magnitude or more, resulting in vastly more interaction between the wine and oxygen. I don’t actually know if this is correct, however heh! Your last point is also a good one…should have thought of bringing a decanter…in which case we might have seen the same effects as Paul’s fun study.

  • http://www.thestemwarestore.com Christopher Moye

    I have tried all of the Eisch glasses and all of the Riedel glasses for a very simple reason. I own a stemware business. The interesting thing about taste and smell is that the science around it is pretty squishy and not very mature. Much of the research on the human brain has focused on the senses of sight, sound and touch for obvious reasons. If you lose your sense of smell, you can still operate successfully in the world. If you lose your sense of sight, things get a bit tougher.

    Some of the science around smell in particular is downright contradictory and I think it’s safe to say that while some common misperceptions have been dismissed (like the concept of the tongue having different distinct areas that perceive salty, sweet, etc.), we just don’t know enough to say with certainty how taste and smell work separately or together with any real authority. I think that it’s a little dangerous to offer any “science” regarding taste and smell unless you’re on top of the latest findings. Further, I don’t think that the research is funded in the same way that say, cancer or AIDS is funded so my sense is that the group of scientists who focus on this area is not terribly large. There isn’t a ton of clear science around smell and I don’t expect that a flood of science will be arriving anytime soon. For now, I guess that we will need to do what bodybuilders did before nutrition became a popular area in science. We will simply have to work together and share our observations and findings.

    As for my own experience, I have tried the Eisch glasses and have offered it to friends and strangers. Most of the people who tried it have noticed a difference in the way that alcoholic beverages tasted but I must admit that I didn’t set up a true controlled environment for it. I have offered it to enough people to believe that the Eisch glass does SOMETHING although I must admit that I can’t offer anything more concrete than that. I don’t find it hard to believe that letting more oxygen into the wine would help it to breathe more quickly. I guess I’m a little pessimistic about the science because the contact area seems comparatively small when you think that the only part of the wine that is being oxygenated is that part that is exposed to the air at the top or to the sides of the glass. On the other hand, I’m no expert in topology so maybe the whole thing works out mathematically. I’m not afraid to admit that I just don’t know.

    I don’t think that there’s any pseudo-science about the shape of the glass affecting the taste of the beverage. The Glencairn glasses absolutely have an effect on single malt scotches as compared to drinking the same beverage from an old fashioned tumbler and I would guess that the Eisch glasses have the same effect. I feel comfortable with the idea that a tulip shaped wine glass will gather the odor molecules and present them to the nose. I have observed that the shape of the top of the glass (notice the shape of Bottega del Vinos and the Riedel Sommeliers) seems to affect the taste of wine. The argument with Bottegas and the Sommeliers is that the curved lip at the top lets the heavier alcohol tumble over the side of the glass. Again, I have tasted alcohol heavy wines in those glasses and the alcohol taste seemed to diminish as compared to glass that didn’t have the turned lip at the top. I don’t have any science to support this…these are my own observations.

    Getting back to the topic at hand, I would have to say that that whole debate is ultimately a tempest in a teapot and the glassware industry has always focused on the wrong things. We should try to expand the pie for everyone instead of fighting over the oxygenation properties of glassware. It’s an argument that is ultimately bad for business and it encourages the casual consumer to dismiss the whole industry.

    Riedel, Eisch, Stolzle, Schott Zwiesel and the rest should attach their products to the romance and mystery of wine instead of wasting time trying to convince customers that some kind of magic will happen in your mouth every time you drink out of a special glass. Science just isn’t sexy when it comes to wine and spirits. I don’t think that anyone else in this industry sells their products or services by pushing science. Can you imagine Captain Morgan’s or Budweiser keeping people interested by offering painful details about the distilling process and the fertilizer that is used to grow the grain that they use in their products? Instead, they show parties on the beach and emphasize good times and fun. After all, isn’t that the reason that most people pour wine in a glass?

    Who cares whether the glass breathes? That’s the fourth or fifth point that I would make in marketing the product. Coca-Cola has the right idea. Attach your product to good times and good feelings and the brand will benefit over the long run. I think that Eisch did the right thing in wrapping up this ridiculous debate. Forget about proving that your glass breathes and attach your name to great times in the mind of the casual consumer.

    Once people try the glass, they’ll enjoy the wine that is in it. That’s the whole point of stemware — it should remain in the background and highlight the beverage that is poured into it. The stemware should never be the center of attention. That approach has never worked and it never will.

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