Glass Half Empty

Michael Nagrant / 02.06.06

Target may not be a shiny food retail mecca like Sur La Table or Williams Sonoma, or a secret grungy restaurant supply shop, but they have mastered the merchandising of designer flair and offer the occasional good deal on cookware.

A week ago as I was walking down the aisle at Target, I spotted the Riedel glass logo. I am not sure I buy the whole argument that Riedel’s wine glasses alone offer superior taste. I do believe glass shape and construction enhances taste, but Spieglau offers similar glassware at half to a third of the price of Riedel. I do recognize the grace and balance in a Riedel glass. The lightness of the bowl, the sharp thin lip, and the slender stem conjure a prima ballerina in mid-arc. For me, I suppose Riedel is what super high end amplifiers and speakers are to audiophiles. That being said, I still couldn’t justify 30 bucks for a wine glass, but when I saw the sign for Riedel Vivant at Target, I thought, hey, Riedel design at reasonable prices. In fact four red wine glasses were 39.99, still alot of money, but rather good for a Riedel.

Then I opened up the box, took out a glass, and held it up to the light. It feels like Riedel is pushing their factory seconds on Target at a high mark-up under the “Vivant” label. I have no evidence for this, except personal opinion and observation. Upon inspection, the grace of a high end Riedel glass was replaced with a heavier, thicker, and in some cases lopsided appearance. A quick way to determine the aesthetic quality of a glass is to examine the joint where the bowl meets the stem. This is a tricky joint, and the best glasses are seamless and balanced, but on the “Vivant” series it was heavy, and in some cases the glass looked oozy like the weight of the bowl had crushed the stem before cooling. They looked alot like the cheap cases of glasses you can buy on sale at Linens and Things. In fact, I bought 6 big red/Bordeaux grand cru style wine glasses from Ikea for a few bucks a piece that look and feel better than the Riedel Vivants.

It seems as if Target in the interest of leveraging a respected brand name is ignoring their focus on quality. The glasses are certainly functional, but for 10 bucks a wine glass, I expect more than function.

Interestingly, there is no mention of “Vivant” series on the Riedel website and Target is not listed as one of their suppliers. While writing this I also found out the Riedel bought Spieglau in late 2004. Riedel has no high end competitors, maybe save Ravenscroft. Riedel preserved the lower price point of Spieglau, but it makes you wonder if unloading poor glassware under the Riedel name is a privilege they would have exercised in a competitive world.

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