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Extreme Glass for Extreme Wine

By: Catherine Fallis MS

10th generation Austrian glass maker Georg Riedel, President of Riedel Crystal, returned to Toronto, Canada early last month to unveil the Vinum Extreme Icewine Glass at a special tasting held at the Royal York Hotel. Dr. Champlain Charest, Proprietor of Wine Spectator Grand Award Winning Bistro a Champlain, was Guest of Honor. Robert Herber of London's Vinopolis was also in attendance.

A little over one year ago, Riedel joined a group of North American wine experts led by Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser, Co-founders of Inniskillin Wines, for a workshop held here to create the ultimate Icewine glass. Donald Ziraldo, known around the world as the "Robert Mondavi of Canadian Wine" for his vision, drive, and relentless determination, pursued Riedel since their brief meeting at the New York Wine Experience four years ago.
According to Riedel, "Ziraldo was obsessed. He never gave up. He always came back, like a boomerang." Ziraldo wanted Riedel to create a custom Icewine glass especially since the Inniskillin Vidal Icewine VQA from Canada's Niagara Peninsula took the Grand Prix d'Honneur at Vinexpo 1989, placing it right up there with Chateau d'Yquem as one of the great dessert wines of the world. Ziraldo wanted the glass designed from the pricey Sommelier Series, but Reidel had a better and much less costly idea.

Wine experts had chosen three glasses as their favorites during the 1999 Icewine glass workshop--Sommelier Series Sauternes and Vintage Port, and Vinum Series Sauvignon Blanc. After the workshop, Reidel went back to the lab and developed the prototype that would be refined and perfected with Inniskillin's input. Detail masters Ziraldo and Reidel exchanged literally thousands of emails in the process.

The resulting glass wowed the crowd at the Royal York Hotel. After tasting Inniskillin Vidal Icewine VQA 1998 side by side in the Sauternes, Vintage Port, Sauvignon Blanc, and new Vinum Extreme Icewine glasses, Reidel and Ziraldo took a vote. It was unanimous in favor of the new glass. Karl Kaiser, the man who brought the idea for Icewine to Inniskillin from his native homeland in Austria, stated "This glass is the maximum translation of our style at Inniskillin."

Inniskillin is the first winery in the world to have successfully commissioned a custom glass from Riedel. The Inniskillin Vinum Extreme Icewine glass has a discreet logo on the base and is available from the winery at USD $29.95 at www.inniskillin.com. The same glass without the logo, called the Vinum Extreme Sweet Wine glass, is available at specialty wine shops for the same price. Wine Warehouse, distributors of Riedel glasses, will offer a special promotional Vinum Extreme Icewine glass program to local restaurants later this year in conjunction with Inniskillin Icewine.

Reidel has several lines of glassware ranging from the luxurious hand blown 24% lead crystal Sommelier Series at $55 per stem and up to Vinum, a sturdier machine-made 24% lead crystal at about $18 per stem, a lower cost lead free Ouverture, and the new diamond-shaped machine-blown 24% lead crystal Vinum Extreme series. According to Reidel, "the design of the new blown shapes relates to current trends in wine quality. The new series impressively illustrates the progress made in the field of mechanical glass production. The upper parts of the Vinum Extreme glasses differ fundamentally from the proven, egg-shaped designs used up to now, due to a "kink" in the bowl. The new shapes with the "kink" have a larger evaporation surface for greater intensity of bouquet." He added "In their lifetime, wine makers produce 35 to 40 vintages of wine. The glass maker is here to transport this message. We are here to study the impact of glass on how we perceive wine."

Several days before the official unveiling, an intimate group got a sneak preview of the new glass at Inniskillin Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake near Toronto. They had purchased an auction package to benefit the Ontario Hostelry Institute that included accommodations, theater tickets, and a private gourmet dinner prepared by President's Choice Executive Chef Christine Chamberlain. Donald Ziraldo was to act as the guests' private sommelier for the evening, but had wisely invited me along as a back-up guest sommelier.

The next day, 300 international sommeliers and their delegates received the Riedel Vinum Extreme Icewine glass in their rooms as they arrived in Niagara-on-the-Lake for wine region tours prior to the Meilleur Sommelier du Monde 10th Annual Competition held in Montreal.

Inniskillin Wines Background, courtesy of Lewis Carroll Communications, Toronto:

Celebrating 25 years of leadership as Canada's premier VQA estate winery, Inniskillin Wines is the undisputed leader in Icewine, and a tireless crusader for increased global distribution of Canadian wine. From the day it was granted the first winery license since 1929, its founding partners, Kaiser and Ziraldo, have pioneered the production of premium quality wines from the classic European vitis vinifera, and were the driving force behind the creation of Canada's Vintners' Quality Alliance (VQA) system of quality control.

Catherine Fallis is the world's fifth female Master Sommelier. She is a writer and consultant living on the Monterey Peninsula in California, and is a second-year Master of Wine student.