Raymond Postgate’s 1951 Plain Man's Guide to Wine discusses the five traditional glass shapes, designed for sherry, claret, port, champagne and hock. He observes contemptuously that 'to wine drinkers, not one of them improves the wine in any way at all.' He continues with the denouncement of the sherry glass as 'an innkeepers’ trick, for making the quantity of wine look like much more than it is.'
This innkeepers’ trick seems in line with what Dr. Attwood (see previous article on beer glass shape) would like to achieve by straightening out beer glasses.
While Postgate was lamenting fancy glassware, Austrian Claus Riedel, a ninth-generation glassmaker launched a range of grape-specific glasses in 1961, claiming particular glass shapes force the wine drinker to tilt the head in specific ways allowing the wine to hit the different ‘taste zones’ of the palate. I wonder how Attwood would feel about Riedel’s 1958 Burgundy Grand Cru glass, considered the world's largest wine glass holding 37 ounces (a standard wine bottle holds about 32 ounces).
Empirical research on the effects of wine glass shapes agree with Postgate. Blindfolded subjects strapped into Clockwork-Orange-esque recliners failed to taste or smell the difference between a wine served in a $50 Riedel glass and the standard thick-lipped bar glasses common in venues that keep an open bottle of gas station vinegary white zinfandel in the back of the cooler for several months.
Objectively the shape of wine glasses makes no discernible difference. But many wine connoisseurs swear by Riedel glasses because subjectively people believe in the fancier wine glasses. Tastings and exhibitions conducted by glassware companies sell the wine glass experience, producing a kind of placebo effect, making the drinker think the wine is actually better. And with pseudo-scientific backing like the ludicrous “tongue map” and salesmen who cringe and spit out wine sipped from “inferior” glasses, it’s easy to see how the revolution of wine glass snobbery continues to grow.
While observations of glass shape on human perception and drinking patterns is intriguing, mankind has been drinking since 9,000 BC. If a fancy glass actually makes your beer taste different or makes you think your wine has a heavy nose of aged coprolites with hints of burning wood on a cold day in May—what is the difference? Man will drink and continue to drink. Even if The Man restricts access to drinking—man will still drink, be it from a branded chalice, a pint glass, a rawhide wine pouch, a box, bottle or keg.
History repeats itself and booze will go on getting drunk.