Any discerning oenophile will tell you that the shape of a wine glass can make a huge difference in your imbibing experience. On the other hand, that could just be a bunch of bullshit. Either way, Riedel decided to do for Coke what it's spent decades doing for pinot: design a glass scientifically optimized for taste. We decided to test it out for ourselves.
The Science of Stemware
While the superhuman abilities of sommelier tastebuds are debatable, there is, at least, some science to backup all that fuss over how impactful a glass shape can be. Seventy-five percent of your taste experience actually comes from smell, so the wider the glass, the more vino musk wafts your way.
But that's wine; considering the carbonation in soda, a more useful comparison for our Coke purposes would be beer. And while it might seem like marketing nonsense, beers with proprietary glasses really do have some science behind them, too.
A while ago, Gizmodo talked to Henry Lau and Rik Sargent of Physic.org's Cheers Physics. No need to believe us; just listen to the experts:
The type of glass your beer is served in really does affect the enjoyment of your beer! Some glasses—like a thinner pilsner-style glass-are great for naturally fizzier beers. They will have less liquid in contact with the bottom of the glass, causing a smaller head. Bubbles are also important for releasing the beers' aromas. When bubbles in the head burst, they spray a miniscule amount of liquid into the air, reaching your nose and tickling your sense of smell with delightful bouquets. To accentuate this, glasses with a tapered head concentrate the aroma and force the drinker's nose closer to the beer.
With all that in mind, it's time for the real question: Does all that science transfer over to the world of soda?
In order to get a nuanced perspective on Riedel's Coke-complimenting glass, we chose tasters from both ends of the spectrum. In the more experienced corner, we had Eric Rydin, a candidate to be a certified sommelier, with several years of experience in the wine business. And in the other corner, we had... me, a person who enjoys Coke most of the time sort of.
Now, to hear Riedel tell it, its glass provides an unparalleled experience:
Inspired by the iconic curves of the original Coca-Cola contour bottle, this glass is designed to enhance the drinking experience. Shaped by trial and error by a panel of industry experts and Coca-Cola lovers, this form captures the distinct spices, aroma, and taste of Coca-Cola and creates a magical sensorial experience.
Which all sounds great, sure, but is it really that noticeably better enough to come out on top against five other contenders?
Our battle included six glasses in total from all walks of beverage-ware: a stein, a highball glass, a shot glass shaped like a stein, a large round drinking glass, a wine glass, and of course, the Riedel. And while we anticipated all the fancy Riedel marketing talk would just be BS, we ended up pleasantly surprised.
Our sommelier-to-be explains:
The first several were more or less indistinguishable: carbonation flaring in your nostrils and the subtle taste of root beer and vanilla lingering in your mouth once the bubbles subsided.
However, when I got to the Riedel it actually did really stand out; it had a smoother texture and felt less carbonated—but not flat. I think the shape of the glass served to redistribute the bubbles, so they don't hit you all at once. Normally, the carbonation will surface to the top of the glass, so with every sip, you're greeted by an onslaught of fizz and what little flavor you can salvage through it. The Riedel glass redistributed them fairly evenly, so you get a more balanced sense of carbonation when you take a sip. As a result, the "natural" flavors of Coca-Cola become more apparent. Now whether that's a good thing or not is your decision.
So surprisingly enough, all that marketing drivel wasn't total bullshit—even I, the layman in this little experiment, was able to tell a difference. Riedel was the clear winner.
Of course, that's not to say that the difference was overwhelming or even that you'd make note of it if you weren't explicitly looking for it. But thanks to the shape of the glass—which was inspired in part by the classic Coca-Cola bottle of 1915—drinking from the Riedel glass didn't just taste better; it was just a generally more pleasant experience. We weren't overwhelmed by carbonation, and the soda went down smooth.
Now, is all that worth shelling out $20 for? That depends how dedicated you are to soda drinking, and how many Jacksons you have lying around. But if you drink Coke on a regular basis and have the money to spare, it really is fascinating to see that, as it turns out, all those winos and hop-heads might actually be on to something.