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Priming and Seasoning Wine Glasses


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#1 Brad Ballinger

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 11:18 AM

This past weekend I had dinner at a pretty nice Italian newcomer in the Twin Cities. (The review is posted on the Heartland board.) Everything was very nice -- escept the wine service.

Both savory courses (antipasta and secondi) arrived before the wine. In fact, there was a 3-5 minute interval between the arrival of the food and the arrival of the wine. And I had even had them decant the Cepparello early on.

The only cause I could find for this delay was that the glasses were primed prior to bringing them to the table. for those who don't know about this practice, it consists of pouring a small amount of wine in the glass to "prepare" it to receive the rest of the wine. Often, the stem is twirled to transfer the wine to the entire bowl.

A number of reactions here...

1. Don't prime my glass. Priming can often overcome flaws that may be present in the way a glass was washed or dried prior. I like to smell the empty glass first. I remember one time at a restaurant in Boston where I smelled mildew in the empty glass and asked for a replacement. I would think priming might mask that flaw.

2. If it's going to screw up the timing of delivering wine to the table with respect to food, don't do it. Get your service timing down first. Then you can attempt to impress me with your priming thing. I want the doorknob to open the door before you take the time to gold plate it.

3. What's the BFD? I know that this practice is gaining in populatiry, but does it really make a difference, or is it part of the "show"?
We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

#2 Andre

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 12:14 PM

Saturday I sat with my younger brother and managed through parts of the movie "Matrix reloaded". The seemed to have abused every single cliche' ruling over "Dumb and Dumber" and "Naked gun whatever...

One of the scenes shows Mr. Bad sipping a Hault Brion 1959 from glasses belonging to the era of my great grandparents. Now this was supposed to be a movie about the future...

The service at the restaurant you were describing was missing the point. You were not consulted with and this is not what a good service is about.

Thanks for sharing.
Andre Suidan
I was taught to finish what I order.
Life taught me to order what I enjoy.
The art of living taught me to take my time and enjoy.

#3 fresco

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 12:28 PM

You're paying, and therefore, you should be allowed to determine just how much ritual and delay you're prepared to put up with. If you visit this place again, I'd suggest you tell them in advance that they should skip the priming and just pour.
Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"

#4 budrichard

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 01:42 PM

Did they 'prime' the glass with wine from the bottle you ordered? Did they use another wine? What happpened to the wine used for 'priming'.
Never heard of the practice, sounds like something dreamed up. Of course what do i know, I only have been collecting and drinking for 40 years. -Dick

#5 sammy

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 01:45 PM

I believe they do this regularly at Babbo. But what do they know?
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#6 tommy

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 01:48 PM

some thoughts here.

as far as point #1, i suspect that the server is checking the glasses for off odors before priming. at least that's been my experience.

point 2 is important, but i've never felt that the extra step was holding up anything or throwing off any timing of the meal. the wine should, after all, reach the table well before the food shows up. at least for me it should.

the babbo thread has some, um, spirited debate on priming. i don't mind priming, and in fact, i prefer it. the amount of wine that is "wasted" seems negligible.

#7 Brad Ballinger

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 01:58 PM

Did they 'prime' the glass with wine from the bottle you ordered? Did they use another wine? What happpened to the wine used for 'priming'.

Yes, and the amount used is negligible. But my wife didn't know that's what was being done. The first wine was white. With the small amount in there, and with the glasses ariving after the food, she assumed that it was just water in the bottom of the glass and dumped it out. A comment here, the wine used for priming remains in the glass, so even if it's used as a rinse, whatever it is "rinsing" is not rinsed out of the glass

I believe they do this regularly at Babbo. But what do they know?

I've been to Babbo and it was done there. I thought it, again, was more for show than anything else. Do the glasses really need it?

Again, I don't care if they want to prime or not (especially if they check the empty glass for odors beforehand), but in this case the priming interrupted the flow of service, and I will make it a point to ask that it not be done in the future if it means getting my wine well after my food.
We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

#8 tommy

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 02:36 PM

but in this case the priming interrupted the flow of service, and I will make it a point to ask that it not be done in the future if it means getting my wine well after my food.

seems like this was a larger service issue, rather than a priming issue.

#9 Craig Camp

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 02:45 PM

This is a huge fashion in Italy and often is done almost everywhere - even in wine bars. The equally huge fashion for gigantic wine glasses means that a big chunk of your bottle can disappear just to rinse out the glasses. I think Italy has exported this overdone exercise to the USA now. Frankly I think they can get the glasses clean without wasting your wine.
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#10 Coop

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 03:04 PM

What about priming the waiter? Offer him a taste, and you will probably find that you have a nicer evening.
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#11 tommy

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 03:18 PM

This is a huge fashion in Italy and often is done almost everywhere - even in wine bars. The equally huge fashion for gigantic wine glasses means that a big chunk of your bottle can disappear just to rinse out the glasses. I think Italy has exported this overdone exercise to the USA now. Frankly I think they can get the glasses clean without wasting your wine.

craig, what are your thoughts on this process adding to the bouquet of the wine, at least initially anyway, as the entire inside of the glass is "coated" with the wine.

it seems like wine foreplay. not totally necessary, but it can't hurt, as long as you have the time.

#12 Carema

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 04:30 PM

I don't know- this sounds nice to me. USA service is usually so lacking and incoherent...

When we go to the big tastings, you do the whites first low acid to high, and then the reds. When switching from you prime the glass with a bit of the new wine. At least someone was paying attention. Priming a glass is not going to throw off the scent of TCA or mildew in any way. In fact priming can be a nice way to rid your glass of the nasty sanitizer that resturants are required to use due to hygenic law.

I remember a long time ago, when taking a hygenic service test in Seattle, the words fecal matter being followed parenthetically by the word "poop". Wish someone had primed that glass :wacko: .
over it

#13 tommy

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 06:07 PM

Priming a glass is not going to throw off the scent of TCA or mildew in any way.

although, i've heard, and believe, that swirling and otherwise aerating can make it a bit harder to detect a mild case of TCA taint, as the bouquet can very well overpower the taint.

until someone does extensive side-by-side taste tests, i'll chalk up this practice to one of preference, erring on the side of "it can't hurt" and "it's nice to see restaurants going to extra inch and paying attention to the glass and wine, which can usually indicate that they give a crap".

#14 Carema

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 07:53 PM

Here's the thing though: when you have TCA busters in the family like me & Jr Smeller- nothing gets by. They could prime the glass till kingdom come, we will pick up the TCA. It is our burden to bear and bear it we do. It is kinda like the mafia altough no-one gets killed; we just leave a lot of clueless restaurant personel in our wake :laugh:
over it

#15 Craig Camp

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 11:16 PM

1. You can't make TCA go away. I have left wines open days and weeks and it never, NEVER, goes away. If an off odor blows off it was not TCA. (If you are unfamiliar with TCA click here)

2. I do not see how rinsing the glass can significantly increase bouquet once the wine has been poured in the glass. The only reason for this procedure can be to eliminate possible odors in the glass.

3. Yes, at the very least places doing this show they are committed enough to wine to take the time.

4. I also think it is damn good theatre that most people love.
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#16 balex

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Posted 20 January 2004 - 03:07 AM

This is a huge fashion in Italy and often is done almost everywhere - even in wine bars. The equally huge fashion for gigantic wine glasses means that a big chunk of your bottle can disappear just to rinse out the glasses. I think Italy has exported this overdone exercise to the USA now. Frankly I think they can get the glasses clean without wasting your wine.

But you can prime lots of glasses with only one splash of wine. You pour it from one into the next and so on.

#17 Craig Camp

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Posted 20 January 2004 - 07:01 AM

This is a huge fashion in Italy and often is done almost everywhere - even in wine bars. The equally huge fashion for gigantic wine glasses means that a big chunk of your bottle can disappear just to rinse out the glasses. I think Italy has exported this overdone exercise to the USA now. Frankly I think they can get the glasses clean without wasting your wine.

But you can prime lots of glasses with only one splash of wine. You pour it from one into the next and so on.

I suppose it depends on how much that "splash" costs. I have seen some pretty significant "splashes" go into 24 oz. Riedel glasses just for the rinse. I am not sure I am so happy to lose a half-a-glass of old Brunello just for the theatre of it.

Maybe you and I only need a small spash if we are doing it ourselves, but I have often seen a waiter in a hurry pour more than a spash.
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#18 tommy

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Posted 20 January 2004 - 07:11 AM

1. You can't make TCA go away. I have left wines open days and weeks and it never, NEVER, goes away. If an off odor blows off it was not TCA. (If you are unfamiliar with TCA click here)

2. I do not see how rinsing the glass can significantly increase bouquet once the wine has been poured in the glass. The only reason for this procedure can be to eliminate possible odors in the glass.

in my experience, a slight trace of TCA will become less prominent after a wine has been aerated. and if we assume for a moment that what i'm experiencing isn't TCA, but something else, then i'll restate to suggest that off odors from a bottle become less prominent after a bit of aeration. so i don't know that i'm buying #1 wholesale. but, that has nothing to do with the priming issue, but rather my assertion that i don't swirl much before sampling a wine. it should also be noted that any priming that i have experienced has come *after* the wine is presented and sampled and, of course, OK'd.

as for bouquet, it would seem logical that if the wine is coating the entire surface area of a glass that the bouquet would somehow be effected. but again, i'm waiting for someone to do a series of side-by-side taste tests.

#19 Craig Camp

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Posted 20 January 2004 - 07:24 AM

in my experience, a slight trace of TCA will become less prominent after a wine has been aerated

as for bouquet, it would seem logical that if the wine is coating the entire surface area of a glass that the bouquet would somehow be effected.

1. In my experience TCA becomes more obvious after the initial fruity aromas blow off - not less.

2. Why? Don't you do the same thing when you swirl the wine in the glass? Anyway, bouquet does not really develop in the glass until the wine has been exposed to air in the glass for at least a brief time - unless the wine was decanted then there is even less reason to think you will somehow add substantially to the bouquet of a wine in this matter. I have never heard anyone argue this process is for anything else than to be sure the glass is free of off aromas.
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#20 tommy

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Posted 20 January 2004 - 07:34 AM

1. In my experience TCA becomes more obvious after the initial fruity aromas blow off - not less.

2. Why? Don't you do the same thing when you swirl the wine in the glass?

1. perhaps i should have used the word "swirl" instead of aerate.

2. only if you're swirling in such a way that you're coating the entire inside of the glass. although, i've been known to come close, i'm not sure everyone is as aggressive as i am. :biggrin:

#21 malcolmjolley

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Posted 03 June 2005 - 11:04 AM

I hope I'm not going over the top on the shameless self-promotion scale, but this story demands to be shared on eGullet.

Gremolata's intrepid LA correspondent, Ben Wiener (who posts here once and a while), wrote in today's update about the bizarre California practice of "seasoning wine".

The piece is here.

Is this widespread? Has anyone else had this happen to them? Does anyone work in a restaurant that does this? What is it exactly? And what's the point?
Malcolm Jolley
Gremolata.com

#22 dinwiddie

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Posted 03 June 2005 - 11:41 AM

This has got to be the most rediculous thing I have ever heard of. They are glasses, there is no way that sloshing some wine in them will "season" them.

When I have wine, I expect a clean, proper glass. What next, serving your wine over ice?

#23 "T"

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Posted 03 June 2005 - 11:23 PM

No offence but isn't wine appreciation a bit pretentious to begin with.
No different from being an audiophile or tea snob.

BTW I am guilty on all three fronts. Apologies all around.
slowfood/slowwine

#24 Brad Ballinger

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Posted 04 June 2005 - 09:18 AM

No offence but isn't wine appreciation a bit pretentious to begin with.
No different from being an audiophile or tea snob.

BTW I am guilty on all three fronts. Apologies all around.

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Is wine appreciation qua wine appreciation pretentious? No. Does it lend itself to pretentiousness? Of course.

The issue many of us are trying to "fight" is this whole mysticism about wine. The types of acts that border on the ostentatious appeal to a fringe population and attempt to impress the rest. Some of the attempts to impress, however, do nothing more than distance the accessibility of wine appreciation that much further.
We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

#25 JohnL

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Posted 07 June 2005 - 10:26 PM

A little bit of ceremony is a good thing!
Sometimes the "backlash" against tradition in the name of "demystifying" something actually results in a sort of reverse snobism! Remember the luddites! :-)

Tradition is wrong when used to exclude-- it is good when those versed in it welcome and iniate newcomers.

Anyway--priming the glass is probably not a bad idea--there is some merit-while at the same time it probably does not enhance the enjoyment of the wine to any great degree so as to be a requirement.
I tend to "trust" the restaurant on some things and voice my preferences on others---like decanting--which I feel are important to my personal enjoyment of the wine.

There is a lot of mysticism in wine--just look at the raging and endless debates about terroir!
That's a good thing.

#26 Brad Ballinger

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Posted 08 June 2005 - 08:42 AM

A little bit of ceremony is a good thing!
Sometimes the "backlash" against tradition in the name of "demystifying" something actually results in a sort of reverse snobism! Remember the luddites! :-)

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Well made points. And while I'm not proclaiming we all become reverse snobs and drink wine from coffee mugs while thumbing our noses at those with the Riedel Sommelier series, there is something to be said for making wine more accessible attitude-wise.

And you are absolutely spot on in the need to intiate newbies into some of the traditions. It is there that we understand a larger picture.
We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

#27 JohnL

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Posted 08 June 2005 - 09:19 AM

A little bit of ceremony is a good thing!
Sometimes the "backlash" against tradition in the name of "demystifying" something actually results in a sort of reverse snobism! Remember the luddites! :-)

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Well made points. And while I'm not proclaiming we all become reverse snobs and drink wine from coffee mugs while thumbing our noses at those with the Riedel Sommelier series, there is something to be said for making wine more accessible attitude-wise.

And you are absolutely spot on in the need to intiate newbies into some of the traditions. It is there that we understand a larger picture.

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Yes!
We've all been "newbies" !!
I remember sampling a red Burgundy at a formal tastting long ago.
I burried my nose in a glass and proclaimed: "Wow what a nose--really interesting!"a gentleman of no less than seventy sitting next to me said in soto voce without even looking up:
"It's sulphur..wait a few moments it will blow off."
Sure enough it was and he was right.
If I had not been taken with youthful exhuberance and been too self conscious to speak out I would have missed a valuable learning experience. If the gentleman next to me had ridiculed me for my ignorance it would have even been worse!!!!

#28 2roost

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Posted 08 June 2005 - 11:01 AM

"Priming" and "Seasoning" wine glasses are two of most ludicrous and pretentious things I've ever seen.
''Wine is a beverage to enjoy with your meal, with good conversation, if it's too expensive all you talk about is the wine.'' Bill Bowers - The Captain's Tavern, Miami


#29 mrbigjas

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Posted 08 June 2005 - 11:46 AM

don't mince words! tell us how you really feel!

#30 Really Nice!

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Posted 09 June 2005 - 12:32 AM

Just give me my glasses sans water stains or water spots. Nothing ruins a glass of fine wine more than having to look at it through the spots.

<okay, lots of things can ruin a glass more, but it's really annoying to spend good money on wine and have it served in a dirty glass>
Drink!
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