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Claus Josef Riedel, 79; Austrian Glassmaker

March 26, 2004|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Claus Josef Riedel, an influential Austrian glassmaker who recognized that the size and shape of a wineglass affected the taste of a particular wine, has died. He was 79.

Riedel, former president of world-renowned Riedel Crystal, died of a heart attack March 17 during a visit to Genoa, Italy.

The ninth generation of a family that has been making glass since 1756, Riedel was president of the Tyrolean Alps-based company from 1957 to 1994. He was succeeded by his son, Georg, who joined the business in 1973 and is credited with giving Riedel Crystal its international renown.

Known as "the professor of glass," Claus Riedel devoted many years to experimenting with the relationship between the shape of a wineglass, including its thickness, the shape of its bell and the diameter of its rim, and the taste of the wine served from it. The aroma and flavors of each wine type, he concluded, can be enhanced or hindered by the shape of a wineglass.

"He was the genius," Georg Riedel, who refined his father's inventions by designing stemware that enhanced the desired flavors in wine, told the Calgary Herald in 2002.

The first Riedel glasses to match the glass to the type of wine were Sommeliers, a high-end, handblown series of lead crystal stemware that debuted in 1973.

Recognizing that different parts of the tongue are sensitive to different taste sensations, the company's chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon glasses are said to direct the wine to the center of the tongue, thus developing a balance of fruit and acidity; the company's Riesling and pinot noir glasses highlight the wine's fruit and sweetness by moving it to the tip of the tongue.

Born in 1925 in Polaun, Bohemia, now the Czech Republic, Riedel was conscripted into the German Army during World War II. He fought in Tuscany and Liguria, both in Italy, and, after being captured by American forces, spent 10 months as a prisoner of war in a camp near Pisa, Italy. After being repatriated in January 1946, he went to work for an Austrian glassmaker.

Riedel's glassmaker father, Walter, who was taken prisoner by Soviet soldiers at the end of the war, spent a decade in the Soviet Union. In 1955, father and son resumed the family enterprise by purchasing a bankrupt glassmaking business in Kufstein, Austria.

In 1958, Claus Riedel created the Burgundy Grand Cru glass, the world's largest wine glass. It holds 37 ounces; a standard wine bottle holds about 25 ounces. It is among 128 Riedel glasses in the design collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In 1959, the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y., named Riedel's Exquisit Bordeaux glass the "most beautiful glass in the world."

In addition to his son, he is survived by his fourth wife, Ute; another son; a daughter; and three grandchildren.

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