How to use the Black Glass

I’ve been working on my book and suddenly hit a bit of a roadblock.  One of the aspects that I’m discussing is the theory of sensory evaluation.  What I’ve realized is that after lecturing on the subject for years, it’s hard to explain on paper.

Let’s start off with the definition of sensory.  According to Oxford, it’s an adjective “relating to sensation or the physical senses; transmitted or perceived by the senses.”  I think that this is very important to take a moment and discuss.  Sensory evaluation is the process of how we perceive or detect what may be in the glass.  It’s hard enough to explain the concept but also factor in that we are all different takes it to another level of difficulty.

Think about it.  We have all grown up in different parts of the world with different parents, eating and drinking different things. So we all perceive things differently.  That is an amazing concept to me. That I can gather a number of people in a room and we all can perceive/detect/sense different things.  So how can I, as a writer, explain this to everyone and get a common language so things can be discussed?

As an instructor, I’ve always had the problem of teaching people to look beyond what they ‘think’ is there to actually use their senses.  There are three steps that I use to help with this:

  • Relax!!!
  • Shut up! What’s in the glass?
  • The ‘Black Glass’.


First of all, it’s wine.  We are looking at to try to learn more about it.  It could even be water that we are examining.  Ok……..RELAX, IT”S A BEVERAGE!!!!  The first and most important reason why I look at a glass is to see if it’s healthy…aka safe to drink.  That is always my primary concern.  Can you drink vinegar?  Sure but in the great words of my father, “It too shall pass.”  Drinking wine that has turned to vinegar in most cases will give you an upset stomach and will not be pleasant later as it passes.  End of story.  So do not overthink what we are trying to do.  If it’s healthy, great, let’s move on to step two.

Shut up! What’s in the glass?

This is not at all meant to be derogatory.  I say this to myself every time I’m looking at a beverage for analysis.  It’s a simple statement to tell myself to focus on what’s in the glass and let everything else go.  Look at what the beverage is telling you (what your senses can perceive) in regard to color, aroma, taste, etc.  Saying this little statement tells my brain to focus and look at what is there.  If anyone has seen Kevin Costner in the movie For the Love of The Game, he has a saying.  Every time he went up to pitch, he would say “Clear the Mechanism’ and you would see him focus on pitching and everything else went away.  This works the same way for me.

The Black Glass

As I get older, my eyesight is slowly changing.  I now wear glasses full time.  However, in my younger years, I was always very focuses on having to ‘see’.  I used my eyes to perceive but as a detriment to my other senses.  I would not focus on aromas or what else I was detecting.

I had a great learning moment.  As a college professor, I was able to really learn how to use my other senses from visually impaired students that we had in Culinary.  It was amazing to watch them work seamlessly from task to task.  I took away one thing when it came to examining wine (especially during blind tastings).  I was focused on seeing a color of the wine and then instantly making a judgement on what the grape was.

It was very confusing until I purchased this:

The Riedel Black Tasting Glass


This is a black glass so dark that you cannot see to the bottom.  More importantly, when you pour any wine into this glass, you cannot see the actual color of the wine.  Working in tandem with a good friend, they would put a wine into this glass and hand it to me for evaluation.  Now that color is out, I had to use all of my other senses to determine the grape variety.  This allowed me to focus on these simple points:

  • White wines give off fruit tree aromas such as citrus, peaches or pears.
  • Red wines give off red fruit aromas such as plums, cherries or berries such as strawberries, blackberries, etc.
  • Jam tones tend to indicate overripe or very ripe grapes during harvest.
  • Green tones could be under ripe fruit (bell pepper in red wines) or grass notes (in some whites).
  • Oak exposure feels like a 9 volt battery buzz on the underside of your tongue.
  • A high alcohol wine will give a small buzz in your nose.

There are more things I can teach you related to how to use this glass.  This will be in future writings and my upcoming book.  The best reason to use a glass like this is to help you focus and see new things to train yourself.  Plus, it’s great at parties.

I still bring out this glass from time to time.  As I twirl it slowly in my hand, I fondly think of how much this simple glass helped me to relax, shut up and see what’s there.  In fact, the day it truly helped was during the dreaded Blind Monkey Test.  That’s another story 


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