The cult of the wineglass

Consult a financial adviser before drinking from a Riedel.

  • Dishwasher tablets erode your glasses and crockery. Use liquid instead.
  • Decant heavier reds at least 8 hours before drinking.
  • If you want to drink champagne (usually a blend of chardonnay pinot pinot meunier and pinot noir) rather than sip it, use a pinot noir glass.

I’ve spent my whole life avoiding scrapes with cults. There was the incident in London on the Tottenham Court Road where, bunking off school aged 14, I filled in the weird form that Scientologists use to suck you in and squeeze the money out of you.

I’ve weaved my way through meditation workshops that ostensibly seem benign. The celibates at Brahma Kumaris, The Australian School of Mediation and Vipassana Meditation (which uses the kind of sensory depravation you’d find at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp) are all cult-like to lesser or greater degrees. (Tip: try Paul Wooden’s courses for a safe introduction to meditation retreats. Or something Buddhist.)

Then a lodger dragged me along to a free introduction to The Forum. With a first class degree in law from Oxford and a promising career writing for a London-based business weekly, she gave up everything to work in the credit control department of this personal development cult.

In a room of hundreds of people spanning all castes and classes, people’s objections were picked-off one by one, the perky and hyper hosts ready to squeeze the financial pips out of us all.

The Forum: What’s the one thing you want in the world you want more than anything else?
Person 1: A red BMW.
The Forum: This will change your life so much that you will be able to achieve any goal you want.

Person 2: I’m already a multimillionaire and drive a Bentley.
The Forum: We are designed exactly for achievers like you?

Tomatom: I’d like to get more out of the wine I drink.
Forum: Sorry, we can’t help you there. Have you thought of trying Shape Matters, one of those Riedel glass tastings held by Mark Baulderstone?

And so it was that I found myself on a freebie, thanks to Black Communication’s Brooke Tabberer, at the $99 workshop upstairs at Bar Lourhina faced with a plastic cup and four differently shaped glasses worth $189.90 that we take home on the night.

It’s all in the nose, we are told as each glass is put through its paces with the help of Baulderstone, the cult’s charismatic managing director for Australia. First a sauvignon blanc. Some 30 people swirl their glasses before sticking their noses deep in to what I know know to be the Vinum/Sauvignon Blanc Ref no. 416/33, a tall delicate glass. We sniff, snort, swirl and mostly swallow rather than spit.

We then tip the Dominic Portet wine into plasticky smelling cup that ruins the overall character of the wine.

The Shaw andSmith M3 chardonnay is next in a deep bowled glass (exactly the same shape as the pinot noir glass except a few cm shorter) the Vinum/Montrachet/Chardonnay Ref.No.416/97.

We swirl, sniff, swallow and spit before tipping the wine into the far less agreeable sauv blanc glass. And then the plastic cup.

The method continues through pinot noir (worse in the chardonnay glass; improved in the sauv blanc one) and the cabernet sauvignon.

Point proved, we attack reds that have “breathed” for 8 hours or more in coiled, ostentatious snake-like decanters before tucking into exactly 4 canapés each.

For somebody that fancied a slap-up meal and getting tanked, it was over far too quickly as each new cult member wiped out their glasses and packed them away in giant boxes.

I thought I’d survived the initiation but,home by 9pm (you’ll often see people wondering the streets midweek from 8pm with big red boxy Riedel bags) do I realise how slick an operation this is.

Yes, I’m sipping chardonnay from my new instrument of pleasure, reading about the 197 different varieties of Riedel glass. I realise that I probably need another of each ($189.90) and then some for my staples of lighter chardonnays, pinot gris, arneis and so on.

The next night it’s back to chardonnay. And the next. I start staying in alone enjoying my love affair with this voluptuous specimen of a glass, cancelling dates. Avoiding friends. I only sneak out to visit Smith St Cellars. Or McCoppins for more chardonnay.

I’m scared. Very scared. I ask my bank manager to freeze my account. Credit cards are cut up. I probably need to smash my chardonnay glass.


  1. Thanks for an interesting article. I have partaken in a glass tasting years ago which was led by Max Riedel. We had 5 wines and 4 different glasses for each of the wines. It was absolutly astounding to me how different the wine tasted with each change of glass. I have never looked at glassware the same way again. BUT I do agree with Peter that 5 types will sufice.

  2. In spite of what Riedel says, you really only need 5 types of wine glasses (and you could probably make do with fewer). A large red wine glass for big reds – cabernet, shiraz. A different shaped one for pinots (some say bigger, some smaller). A smaller, but still fairly big glass for big whites – chardonnay, aged semillons, a smaller one for rieslings and (if you really must) sauvignon blancs. A flute for champagne.
    Don’t let these expensive wine glass seller tell you any different.