On 28 June, Mitchell & Son Wine Merchants and Unique Hospitality hosted an event with Austrian born Maximilian Riedel, the 11th generation of the Riedel glassmaking dynasty, for a very unique style wine tasting. Riedel guided guests through a selection of fine wines explaining the important relationship between wine and the wine glass.
The morning event was strictly trade only but Riedel was also hosting a sold out consumer tasting that evening. The tasting featured the brand-new Riedel Veloce Tasting Pack containing four specially created glasses crafted to enhance wine made for sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, which guests were allowed to take home with them. This new collection tells you the grape variety on the base of the glass so he says, “you can’t cheat your guests!”
Riedel is a charismatic character and a natural presenter who holds the room easily while conveying his enthusiasm for wine and glassware. At the beginning of his presentation, he promises the packed function room that what they will learn in the next hour “will change your lives”. While describing it as life-changing may be a stretch, it was a very interesting tasting and he convinced me that the right glass does indeed enhance the taste of the wine and the wrong glass can actually impair it.
Machine made glassware
This pioneering range of crystal glassware looks and feels handmade but has, in fact been crafted using machines. Riedel explains how the art of glass making is dying so there was a need to create glass that doesn’t require artisan producers. “Inspiration truly came from the need to find replacement for glass makers which we have been preparing for I would say the last 30 years but Veloce is the first step in the direction to make it less obvious that something is machine made versus hand-made and I think it is the new standard. So we have set the benchmark definitely for the competition who doesn’t have such advanced machinery and I’m feeling now having this line is very good for the future, knowing that glass makers are a dying breed,” he explains. Maybe one of the best characteristics of the Riedel Veloce glasses are that they are robust enough to go into the dishwasher. “We’ve been educating the consumer on how to wash and how to handle glasses in such a good way that the fear is gone. That’s why people dare to go out and buy very thin, very light glasses,” he says.
Educating the public
This is Riedel’s third time to Ireland and this visit is part of a short tour which incorporated an event in Scotland too.
However, he is preparing for a major tour through the United States at the end of July. “The plan is to talk to 1,000 people in 14 days,” he explains. He feels like it is still really important to get the message out there in person. “Today we filled the room with 100 professionals in the wine and food industry and it was I believe to all of them an eye opening experience so I can tell you that we still have lots to do to make people aware of our message of what the glass can do. I hope that we will succeed and that everybody will consider this as the perfect way to serve wine,” he says. Although he travels the world educating over 20,000 people annually, he can’t do it all by himself so he has a number of staff members who will conduct tastings such as this one in his place. “I’ve cloned myself which means that I have very loyal, very eager employees. In the room today, there are five [Riedel staff] who conduct tastings in a similar way and everybody has his own style and some of them might do it even better than me,” he humbly states.
With a very active social media presence, especially on Instagram, it is quite evident that Riedel’s life is truly dedicated to the cause and he has an old worldly quality about him that makes him seem more mature than his 45 years. Maybe this is because he was shouldered with a lot of responsibility from a young age. At just 25, he became CEO of Riedel Crystal of America, and proved his talent for management, building up North America to become the largest export market for the company.
“I never had a problem with it,” he says when I suggest he was very young to hold such a big role. “I was educated in this way and was brought up to do it. It was not easy at times because my father sent me off to work in glass factories and wineries. Then I started my career working for a distributor and then he gave me the choice to move at the age of 21 to China or America. I decided then to go to China but as you said, I was too young for the Chinese culture so he made me go to America which I believe was the right decision,” he says.
“It definitely helped to educate me further and I was brought up in the world of wine and in the world of glassmaking but obviously I had no experience so my father kind of dumped me in the cold water and I learned how to swim and succeed,” he recalls.
Business is certainly in the blood. His father and his grandfather are his heroes’ and as the 11th generation to carry on the family business, we asked if he would hope to see his children carry the torch after him. He makes no bones about the fact that it is expected of them. “If they don’t, I have failed,” he pronounces. “I’ll be the first in 11 generations to fail if I don’t get my kids wanting to be a part of this wonderful company. They are eight and six so they have some time,” he adds with a laugh.
The importance of decanting
In addition to his function as CEO, Riedel has made a name for himself as a designer of decanters and glasses. In
2001 he created the Riedel Restaurant range, which has been a huge success and in 2004 he designed the “O”
series, consisting of stemless varietal specific wine glasses. There are close to 80 different decanters in the Riedel Collection of every shape and size including the first free-formed Riedel handmade decanter Cornetto, which was the birth of a wide collection of free-formed decanter designs. He explains why decanting new wines is so important. “Decanting in most restaurants is done for the wrong reasons; for old wines to split the wine from the sediment. Nobody can afford these old wines anymore and storage is a question,” he explains. “Restaurants always serve the latest vintages which are way too young and a lot of wineries have decided to release vintages of only 3-5 years so I think there is not a single winery that would say, do not decant.”
Coming to the end of his presentation, which is precisely timed to last one hour, he tells the crowd that “the last sip is
always the best,” due to the wine having been aerated for the longest time and many people nod in agreement from
their own experiences. Attendees stream out, feeling at most, a little more knowledgeable about wines and their symbiotic relationship with the glass and at least, wholly entertained by the flamboyant Maximilian Riedel.