The Riedel Coke glass — tasting is believing

Georg Riedel, an Austrian glassware manufacturer, shook up the wine world with his line of crystal stemware dedicated to specific grape varietals. He asserted that a pinot noir-based wine from Burgundy needed a vastly different glass than a Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, which in turn needed a different glass than an American zinfandel. If you didn’t believe him, he would sit down with you, pour wine, and watch as your eyes went wide.

Riedel and I did just that about 20 years ago, sampling wines in two side-by-side glasses. The differences weren’t subtle, they were breathtaking — the smells that came out of the glass, the place on your tongue where the taste connected, the acidity, the tannins, the length of time the flavor remained in your mouth after you swallowed. It was all different.

And now Riedel has turned his attention to Dixie champagne. The Coca-Cola + Riedel glass has recently debuted, and you can get yourself a set of two for about $20. These thin, elegant and curvaceous glasses are the product of a joint-development project between Riedel and the Atlanta soda giant.

“This is our very first glass outside of the alcoholic world,” Riedel said by telephone. “Coca-Cola is a new platform of experience. We looked for the most intimate and secret message the flavor profile of Coca-Cola can release.” Oh, Coke, you vixen.

Also on the line was Brad Fields, the global drinkware manager for Coca-Cola who got this whole project underway. “This project is the merging of two dreams,” he said.

After touring Riedel’s manufacturing facility in Frankfurt, Germany, Fields invited the company to come up with a design. Riedel got to work, taking into account the mitigating factors that affect taste (shape, size, rim diameter) as well as the traditional shape of the Coke glass, with its iconic cyma curve. He also looked at the basic 8-ounce Coke bottle, what he calls “the root bottle.”

Last April, Riedel arrived in Atlanta with 18 different prototypes to conduct a sensory workshop. The tasting panel of 20 people consisted of both “top flavor experts” as well as marketing and public relations folk. They drank Coke after Coke, taking aroma, mouth-feel and flavor differences into consideration.

“We came hands-down to one shape on the tasting panel,” Fields said. “It was amazing.”

I would have to see this for myself. After my Riedel glasses arrived, I set up a Coke tasting at my house and assembled an expert tasting panel (my wife and kid) to see just what magic this glass could or could not accomplish on our fizzy friend.

We also sampled the Coke from a champagne flute, a bourbon tasting glass, a juice glass and right from the bottle.

The other tasters thought they could discern slight differences. I tasted Coke. Nothing but Coke. Thankfully not Pepsi. But Coke. This fancy glass seemed like nothing but a cynical marketing ploy, which depressed me.

And then a thought occurred. We were drinking Coke the preferred way in our household — without ice. This big glass was made for ice.

Sure enough, once you fill it with ice, this glass shows its stuff. The shape seems to snake-charm the soda’s effervescence. As you pour, you watch the ring of bubbles slither down. The bubbles tickle your nose just right, and the lemony acidity of the soda comes up front and center.

I just had one pressing question, which I needed to ask Georg Riedel.

He thought about this query for a moment and carefully answered, “That has not been addressed. We’ve not made a workshop about it. But, yes, I think the glass would work for Diet Coke.”