The Passion and the Magic

Want proof that 1 + 1 = 3? You have only to attend, as I did recently, a wine tasting lead by Dr. Champlain Charest who brings all the passion of a collector and connoisseur extraordinaire and Georg Riedel who adds the magic of the wine-specific glasses that he designs. Together, they add up to a whole new dimension to appreciating wine.

Growing up worlds and a generation apart, the two, at first glance, are unlikely colleagues. Champlain Charest, 69 is the son, he says, “Of a poor Quebec farmer who could afford only one jug of cheap, sweet wine a year.” A teddy bear of a man, it’s not hard to imagine him donning a red velvet suit with white fur trim and ho-ho-ho-ing his way through a children’s Christmas party. In contrast, Georg Riedel, at 49, cuts a trim, suave figure – the epitome of continental sophistication. The eldest son of a well-to-do Austrian family, he heads up a family firm that has been producing beautiful crystal for ten generations. A love of good wine brought them together professionally but a mutual respect and admiration cemented a friendship.

Charest clearly recalls his first glass of good wine. “I was 33 years old and became associated with a Paris-trained radiologist who knew about wine,” he told me. The wine that would change his life was a Petrus. He doesn’t remember the year. “I became contaminated, then contagious and since then I’ve infected many people with the bug. I drink wine very often,” he says, “at least every day.”

In 1970, he began to collect seriously, amassing, within a few years, a cellar with 2,000 bottles. Soon he had too much, but he still wanted to collect better wines. So he opened a restaurant. In 1988, Bistro à Champlain was the first Canadian restaurant to receive Wine Spectator’s Grand Award. Today with a 40,000-bottle cellar, he is very selective. The bistro, located in a restored 1864 log cabin on the shore of Lac Masson, an hour’s drive north of Montreal, provides Charest with a means of sharing his passion.

“A passion is a chronic disorder that a doctor can’t cure, but I’m very happy that I chose wine as my passion,” he says, giving a nod of approval to a Romanée Conti ’89 that he has ordered with lunch. “Not many other passions last as long or are as well shared.”

“But wine,” he adds, “is not like beer that you can drink from the bottle. For wine, you need the right tools.” Describing the tools, Georg Riedel compares his wine glasses to a musical instrument. “Unused, both are rough and cold. But when a musical instrument is played by a virtuoso, it’s a miracle. Our glasses are not merely glasses, but are finely- tuned instruments to convey the message and the excitement of the wine and to please the passionate of the world.” Forty years ago, Georg Riedel’s father Claus discovered how the shape and size of the glass effect the way we perceive wine. When Karl Kaiser, Inniskillin’s winemaker said that in the new Reidel Icewine glass, his icewine tasted exactly as he dreamed it should, Georg Riedel knew the magic was working. Once again.

The Wine Establishment 2000