HONG KONG Could a wine glass shaped roughly like a closed tulip blossom revolutionize the savoring of fine vintages by taming the alcohol in the wine?
That's the hope of French luxury crystal glassmaker Baccarat, which recently began sales of its new line of glasses in Hong Kong, where wine imports have remained strong on the back of strong demand from mainland Chinese buyers even amid global economic uncertainty.
"People tend to confuse good wine with alcohol in wine, which is not what we want," said Bruno Quenioux, technical adviser of the Chateau Baccarat collection of professional wine glasses, which went on sale in France earlier this year.
"What is complicated with wine is to get the balance between the fire and water. Get too much fire in the wine and you lose the message of the water... But if you put too much water in the fire, then the fire is dead."
The glass has a broad base that evokes the tastevin, a saucer-like cup used by winemakers and sommeliers to taste wines, sloping sides and an unusually narrow lip at the end of a vertical "chimney" that the company says prevents the alcohol from overpowering other aromas since it sinks down when the glass is swirled prior to tasting.
"The main subject in the final stretch should no longer be the alcohol anymore, but the aromas and the bouquet the fine wines have to offer," Quenioux told Reuters, adding that the new glass made the aroma more subtle.
"You can see the smokiness, some flowers, definitely the glass leads you to have the mineral side of the wine... When you go back to the regular glass, you have rusticity. You have something not so subtle."
But other glassmakers disagree, saying there is still merit in time-honored variations tailored to the different wine varieties - variations to which they have given subtle modern twists.
"I think as people start appreciating wine more, that they will appreciate a pinot glass, a cabernet glass, a shiraz glass. They're all a little bit different," said Suresh Kanji, a Hong Kong-based distributor for Riedel Crystal, based in Austria.
The ubiquitous Riedel has put efforts into developing different glasses for different varieties through the years and in the 1970s discovered that each separate variety had a specific DNA.
"Based on that DNA, the shape of the glass actually makes the experience for the consumer very, very different," said Kanji.
"The big bowl - great for red wine. The smaller glasses - good for white wine... Every glass was fine-turned for the specific DNA of what you're drinking."
Wine experts agree that given the differences in how "forthcoming" each variety may be, proper handling of the alcohol in fine wines is key.
"Burgundy is very delicate wine, so it needs a larger surface area to release and free its aromas," said Debra Meiburg, a Master of Wine and wine journalist.
"Burgundy (glasses) comes to quite a narrow lose at the chimney in order to capture the aroma and trap them in the glass."
And yes, she said, the glass does matter.
"Of course any glass would work. But just as you would prefer not to drink your coffee in a paper cup, it's always nicer to have the right quality of glass."
(Additional reporting by Andy Ho, editing by Elaine Lies)