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Mar 30, 1999 09:28 AM

Babbo--Glass Priming ???

  • r

I had a fantastic dinner at Babbo last night. When we
ordered the wine I noticed that the sommelier poured a
little wine into each glass and rolled it around. This
is called glass priming. I have never seen this done
before and was told that it is only done in Italy. Does
anyone have any information on this procedure?

I would like to add that I have read that the staff at
Babbo has an attitude. We experienced gracious
professional service. Our reservation was for 9:30. We
arrived early and told that our reservation was for
10:30. The manager was appologetic and seated us within
5 minutes. The waiters were excellent and very
informative. Their knowledge of the food, ingredients
and menu was very helpful in choosing dishes. We did
not experience any "attitude."
Throughout the evening the waitstaff checked with our
table to see if everything was ok and took the time to
educate us about some of the unusual ingredients on the


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  1. I was so glad to read your post. I love Babbo but it
    was beginning to sound as if they had gotten too big
    for their britches! Maybe some of the posts from
    unhappy chowhounds reached them. pat

    7 Replies
    1. re: pat hammond
      chris b. shaw

      Hey Rosie what are you doing over here ? Well in any event Mr. Willie Gluckstern The Wine Avenger says that they got exactly the effect that they were looking for , they got more publicity and talk about their restaurant. Willie has taught more people about wine than any one else in the country, and he said it actually sounded "kinda silly". Another wine pretense.

      1. re: chris b. shaw

        I can only guess that they are swirling the wine in
        the glass to aerate it and bring out the aroma
        possibly to enhance the first taste. Many wine
        drinkers do this - but I've never heard of a server
        doing it before, in Italy or anywhere. Maybe they
        think they will get fewer good bottles returned???

        1. re: jen kalb
          Rosie Saferstein

          The wine we were drinking was not more than $25 a
          bottle. We asked them to recommend wines in that price
          range and were very happy with what they picked.


          1. re: Rosie Saferstein

            I need a drink and a meal at Babbo after reading
            through your messages for the past 2 evenings :)-
            what a good group of foodies and keep up the great
            work!! question: was this the statement that launched
            the most messages?

            1. re: Joanne
              Joseph Llamas

              I was at Babbo last week, glass priming is a nice
              function, but I had to pull teeth to get a sommelier
              over to take an order. I also noticed that at least 50%
              of the tables dining had no wine. Which amounts to a
              pure crime considering how great the food was. As a
              working sommelier, I would not be employed with such
              pitiful results.

              1. re: Joseph Llamas

                Some great wines to try at Babbo:
                Cosimo Taurino's Notarpanero!
                Sauvignon Mockhof '98!
                Montepulciano 'Abruzzo Torano nuovo '85!

                I think Babbo's wines are some of the most interesting
                in the city right now, wines that are off the beaten
                track, which have fascinating whiffs of flavor and
                smells that are enchanting.

                And, the glass priming is unusual enough to be


        2. re: chris b. shaw
          Rosie SAferstein

          Chris--I came over here for a visit.


      2. we've seen the practice in Italy quite often. people explain it to me there, that this priming gets rid of any sediments left in the glass from washing it etc. thx

        27 Replies
        1. re: stephen kaye
          Josh Mittleman

          I can't believe that a restaurant would prefer to waste
          wine washing my glass at the table because they aren't
          confident that they got it clean in the kitchen. I'm a
          little more willing to believe that they are trying to
          aerate the wine to open the taste, but it still strikes
          me as the same kind of pretentious nonsense as smelling
          the cork.

          1. re: Josh Mittleman

            they use about a teaspoon of wine to do this. this is not to aerate the wine. its not " pretentious nonsense", . in trattorias/restaurants, especially in Piemonte/Italy, they not only do this to the glass, but many heat the wine in the glass, over a candle., for a short moment or two. these are not fancy/snobby places that practice this , but earthy down home local piemontese trattorias and osterias. I have no problem with them, their food, their wine, nor their ways.

            1. re: stephen kaye

              Certainly, gentle warming makes sense when the wine
              has been brought straight out of a proper cellar.
              Warming it slightly-and aerating it-can certainly help
              enhance a wine that is perhaps rather cool-or young-
              for immediate pleasure. The restaurant wants that
              first taste to be a pleasant one. But it often isn't,
              because the tasting ritual (let-alone the silly cork
              presentation) is rushed. In theory, the swirling, by
              slowing down the process, could enhance it. In
              practice, in NY, it may well become just another piece
              of service rigamarole.
              I still have my doubts about the "washing" theory of
              swirling. So Josh-do they throw out the wine they use
              to "wash" the glass in Piedmont? Rosie-do they toss
              out part of your $25 bottle at Babbo?

              1. re: jen kalb

                after using about a teaspoon, to prime a few glasses, the host pour it into his glass, and he then drinks it. there might be less than a teaspoon left at this time. its all aok w/me

                1. re: stephen kaye

                  josh - sounds like a very pleasant and intimate
                  custom, like a lot of things in Italy. In particular,
                  the fact that the host drinks the leavings. Almost
                  sacramental, like a priest finishing off the remains
                  of the consecrated wine, after communion. Also, the
                  host is taking responsibility for the wine's quality,
                  since he tastes it too. Its hard to imagine this
                  custom translating effectively to a NY scene
                  restaurant, tho Babbo may be trying, and if so, more
                  power to them.

                  1. re: jen kalb

                    I am not josh, jen, thx much

                    1. re: stephen kaye
                      What I think I observed

                      We were upstairs at a corner table and I couldn't see
                      everything that was going on. I think the sommelier
                      warmed the wine over a candle and he poured all but a
                      drop into a carafe. I did not see him drink it. The
                      glasses were then brought to our table with a drop of
                      wine in the bottom of the glass. This was done for both
                      the white and red wine.


                      1. re: What I think I observed

                        Rosie, maybe candle is being used to help in the
                        decanting of the wine - its one way to see where the
                        sediment begins. The sommelier would not drink any
                        dregs probably. The rest of your description sounds
                        very like what Stephen (very sorry for my faux pas, S.)
                        described from Italy.

                        1. re: jen kalb

                          when we were in Italy, nov 98, I bought a cool little gaget, that is silver, it sought of cradles your wine glass, over a small little wicket/burner, for the purpose of what we've been talking about here lately.

              2. re: stephen kaye
                Josh Mittleman

                The fact that inexpensive restaurants in Italy do it
                doesn't make it any less pretentious: People have been
                sniffing corks in France forever, and they were all
                participating in a nonsensical ritual.

                It is possible that this ritual originally had a real
                purpose, though I can't guess what. But unless the
                waiter at your table can say why he's doing it -- and
                unless his explanation makes sense -- it is simply a
                pretentious ritual. It doesn't matter whether you're
                in NYC or Como.

                Now, it is somewhat sensible for the sommelier to taste
                the wine before serving it. Maybe that was the
                origin of the ritual: He pours a bit of wine, swirls
                it, tastes it, and then pours for everyone. If I were
                spending $150 on a bottle of wine, I might even expect
                it. But it's downright silly for a $25 bottle.

                1. re: Josh Mittleman

                  hey josh, ..................& happy holidaze

                  1. re: Josh Mittleman

                    Josh, sorry, but it's practical, not pretentious.

                    Recently washed glasses might contain a few beads of water, which can dilute the flavor. You can't shake ALL the water out of a glass, though you can dry them with a dish towel--but have the flavor of the towel's laundry detergent aroma subtly added to the glass. And water--especially the chlorinated water found in many places--can leave a film with a mineral taste. Furthermore, glasses pick up odors (especially in a restaurant). We're of course talking about extremely minor contaminants, but they're perceptible, as professional tasters will all tell you.

                    If you REALLY care about tasting nothing but a given drink at hand, there's no better way to ensure this than to rinse the glass with that very drink. It requires very little, and is hardly a waste (though you should throw it's not for drinking).

                    If you still think this senseless, I'm afraid you'll be railing into the wind. While it's not ubiquitous, it is a practice followed by many people in many cultures with many both high-scale and low-scale levels, as someone pointed out. I've seen it done everywhere from high end wine tastings (especially Italian) to an appreciable number of booths (of better brewers) at the Great American Beer Festival.

                    I'm very unsnooty and unpretentious, but I favor the practice if I'm doing serious tasting.

                    1. re: Jim Leff

                      well stated, bravo!

                      1. re: stephen kaye

                        thanks, but don't gloat. Josh is usually right about stuff.

                        1. re: Jim Leff
                          stephen kaye

                          not gloating at all. you just stated it well.nuff said

                          1. re: stephen kaye

                            glass priming is done to wash out the pitting in side a glass that hold lint`and soap.

                            1. re: jg

                              I agree with this explanation.

                      2. re: Jim Leff
                        Josh Mittleman

                        Hm. That's a point I hadn't considered. It's
                        certainly logical. Thanks.

                  2. re: Josh Mittleman
                    jonathan gold

                    This is sort of off-topic, but at the
                    restaurant I went to last night, the
                    sommelier made a big deal out of sniffing the
                    cork of the bottle of Bonny Doon Roussanne
                    I'd ordered--and the cork was made of
                    freaking plastic! He at least had the
                    courtesy to turn beet-red when I pointed this
                    out to him.

                    1. re: jonathan gold
                      Josh Mittleman

                      Now _that's_ funny.

                      1. re: Josh Mittleman
                        Rachel Perlow

                        Since no one else pointed this out: The "sniffing the
                        cork thing" is supposed to be for checking to see that
                        the cork is moist. This is an indication that the
                        wine was stored properly (on an angle, liquid touching
                        the cork). If the cork is allowed to dry out, there
                        is a risk of the wine spoiling. Since checking to see
                        if a cork is moist requires bringing it close to the
                        face many people assume the customer is sniffing it.

                        1. re: Rachel Perlow

                          Why would one "sniff" a cork to see if it is "moist"?
                          The moistness of a wine cork is a matter of feel, not
                          smell. The reason for cork sniffing, as I understand
                          it, is to see if the cork has an off-aroma that would
                          suggest a "corked" wine. You don't really need to
                          sniff the cork to determine this. You just need to
                          taste the wine. I suppose, however, that a cork with
                          an off-aroma serves as a sort of "early warning system"
                          that the wine is probably "corked."

                          "Corked" wine, with its musty/moldy aroma, is caused by
                          the presence of 2, 4, 6-trichloranisole (TCA) in the
                          cork, which occurs during processing of the cork. This
                          is a major problem in the wine industry, and is
                          exacerbated by the use of low quality cork taken from
                          the base or upper branches of the cork oak. In
                          addition, some oak bark is affected by a fungal growth
                          ("yellow stain") that can occur during storage. Yet
                          another problem is the excessive use of chlorine in the
                          solution used to boil and clean the cork, which can
                          cause wine to taste something akin to a municipal
                          swimming pool. The growing incidence of "corked" wine
                          has led a number of winemakers to experiment with the
                          use synthetic corks and plastic seals (with screw tops
                          no less). When I was in British Columbia last year, I
                          observed that a number of premium British Columbian
                          wines had plastic seals instead of natural cork
                          stoppers. There is, however, considerable consumer
                          resistence to plastic seals and screw caps, which are
                          associated with inferior quality wine.

                          My understanding is that there isn't much scientific
                          evidence on the effects of using synthethic seals
                          instead of natural cork. I have heard the premise
                          that, for wine that needs long aging, natural cork
                          allows the wine to "breath" during the aging process,
                          and that an impermeable plastic seal would prevent
                          proper aging of the wine. Perhaps there is some
                          scientific support for this premise that I'm not aware
                          of. If someone knows more about this, please share
                          your information. But at least for wines that are
                          intended to be drunk without aging (e.g., Beaujolais
                          Nouveau), synthetic seals would seem to be preferable.
                          Not only would this prevent the problem of "corkiness"
                          in such wines, it would reduce the demand for cork,
                          thus helping the cork forests to regenerate and produce
                          top quality bark.

                          1. re: Tom Armitage

                            Premium British Columbian wines?

                            1. re: j gold

                              I guess, to be precise, I should have said "some of the
                              best British Columbian wines," to make clear that the
                              point of reference was within the category of "British
                              Columbian wines," rather than all wines. The occasion
                              was a dinner at Sooke Harbour House on Vancouver
                              Island, and the wines selected by the restaurant's wine
                              buyer were considered to be some of the best made and
                              most interesting British Columbian wines, with which,
                              to be honest, I'm unfamiliar. Actually, they were
                              pretty good.

                          2. re: Rachel Perlow

                            I dont know about you guys, but I prefer to stand my
                            older wines (laid on their sides for storage) up for a
                            while (in some cases, days) prior to serving. The cork
                            will not strictly speaking be wet - but the wine will
                            not be cloudy with sediment either. Re the reason to
                            sniff, I agree with Tom - you are sniffing for off
                            odors, though with most wines, if the cork looks clean
                            (except for a stain from the wine) and non-moldy or
                            crumbly the sniff is mostly restaurant ceremonial - at
                            home, I would go straight to smelling and tasting the
                            wine itself.

                            1. re: jen kalb

                              Me too. Even at a restaurant, I look at the cork
                              briefly, but don't sniff it. How the wine tastes is
                              the true test.

                  3. Rosie - a couple of days ago you said you aren't
                    allowed in NY restaurants. Did you get a special pass?



                    1. I have no information to add to the erudition that has already been displayed, but I have to say I'm awed that this subject has generated almost two dozen postings by midafternoon of the day after it was first bruited (or, if you prefer, mooted). Who'da thunk it?