The glass matters


the_river_-_twin_suns_cabFor most wine connoisseurs, there is a special place in hell reserved for folks who drink wine out of a Styrofoam cup, and for wine geeks in particular, hell doesn’t begin to repay the crime of drinking such a wine out of such a container. This may all seem a bit silly, and, in a sense, it is. On the other hand, expensive wine is as much about hedonistic pleasure as it is about quenching one’s thirst. So the glass does matter.

Indeed, it is a well-established wine appreciation fact that the size and shape of your glassware influences your perception of the aromas and flavors of any wine.

While proper glassware cannot transform a badly made wine into something better, it most assuredly can make the experience more enjoyable. Wine glasses should be clear and smooth (not etched) to permit an appreciation of the wines color and viscosity, and should also not have a rim or roll on the edge.

Of course they must be clean without traces of detergent, dust or schmutz. Crystal glasses, while expensive, are aesthetically more appealing because they contain minerals that make them sparkle and the walls are thinner adding an element of elegance. Obviously, glass is perfectly acceptable as well.

The most important aspect, by all accounts, is the size and shape of the glass because you need enough space in the bowl for the wine to breath, and for you to be able to swirl the wine vigorously to further aerate it and unlock the aromas. Ideally the opening should also be narrower than the bowl to really focus the aromas.

Controversy remains as to whether there is one ideal or perfect shape for a wine glass. The Austrian company Riedel manufactures what are, arguably, the world’s best wine glasses, and it makes a different configuration for nearly every red and white wine varietal.

Riedel claims that these specific shapes match the unique characteristics that distinguish the various wine grapes allowing improved appreciation of the aromas, texture, flavors and mouthfeel. Thus its cabernet glass has a taller bowl and a narrower opening than its wider, shorter chardonnay stemware, which is different from the Bordeaux glass, or its Burgundy glass, and…well, you get the idea. One can spend a small fortune on such things.

Having tasted the same wine in different glasses, we can attest that the shape does matter at some level. Wines simply smelled and tasted better in well-configured stemware. Of course, few of us have the shelf space or funds to own the entire Riedel range. Instead, consider trying a few of the different, less costly alternatives.

One of us currently loves the Crate and Barrel Tour Glass that offers a wide lower bowl, sides that angle upward to form a waist that then tapers toward a narrow opening – and all for about $11 each. Attractive, functional, durable and inexpensive to replace, these glasses performed perfectly well with the Twin Suns Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($16). It is the inaugural release of the value-priced, mevushal wines from Ami and Larissa Nahari of The River, a N.Y.-based kosher wine importer and distributor.

The Twin Suns wine was made for The River by Gabriel and Shimon Weiss of Shirah Wines from 100 percent cabernet sauvignon. This light-bodied, floral and fruit-forward wine makes for very easy drinking, with a toasted-fruit nose leading to aromas and flavors of red fruits and a little spice amid a lightly or softly tannic frame; a little time and air is needed to open it up more fully. Good quality for the price.

Spirits-wise, with the cold weather stomping through and cold-like symptoms creeping in, we thought we’d turn to the hot toddy, a classic curative cocktail.

The hot toddy is most directly associated with Scotland and refers to a mixed alcoholic drink that is served hot. While there are many great variations, the essential elements of the hot toddy are as follows: (1) a spirit base such as Scotch or other whisky, brandy or dark rum; (2) hot water or some other hot liquid such as tea, coffee, or milk; and (3) some kind of sweetening agent like honey, sugar or syrup.

This basic formula, however, can be augmented – often to great effect – with herbs and spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, etc. While it doesn’t work in every combo, traditionally one also adds a citrus element, such as lemon or orange, sometimes in juice form or sometimes as a garnish.

Generally enjoyed in cold weather, and often sipped late in the evening to facilitate sleep, the hot toddy is actually a fairly versatile potion, one that can be enjoyed in much the same fashion as an evening tea or after-dinner coffee. Or, for that matter, you can suck down some with breakfast, if you are so inclined, but we suspect this won’t escape the attention of co-workers or supervisors and, therefore, don’t recommend it.

The precise history of the hot toddy is unknown. One popular yet highly unlikely etymologically grounded theory states that a British East India Company man introduced the hot toddy into Scotland in the form of a “tari tadi,” a Hindu term that refers to a distillation of sap from several varieties of palm tree (the jaggery, wild date, Palmyra, cocoa nut palm, etc.).

Far more likely is the explanation offered by the poet Allan Ramsay. In his 1721 poem, “The Morning Interview,” Ramsay depicts a rather grand tea party in which he describes various items by their national identity: tea from China, sugar from the West Indies and “Scotia does no such costly tribute bring/Only some kettles full of Todian spring.”

Ramsay elucidates this in a footnote: “The Todian spring, i.e. Tod’s Well, which supplies Edinburgh with water.”

In Scottish folklore this is readily understood as a reference to whisky, which is derived from the Scottish Gaelic term “uisge beatha,” or “water of life.”

Sure enough, the 1786 publication of the poem “Holy Fair” by Robert Burns, Scotland’s most famous bard, employs “toddy” as slang for whisky – and the now mostly unread, and largely unreadable, Robbie Burns is most assuredly the final word on Scottish authenticity.

Here then is a traditional hot toddy for you to slip into:

2 ounces single malt Scotch whisky
(we recommend the Dalmore
3 ounces boiling water
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey (or brown sugar)
3 drops Angostura bitters
1 slice lemon, studded with cloves
A sprinkle of ground nutmeg

Into a heatproof glass or large coffee mug put the sugar, bitters, lemon juice and clove-studded lemon slice. Add the whisky, pour in the boiling water and stir gently until the honey or sugar dissolves. Dust lightly with nutmeg and sip lovingly. L’Chaim!

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