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May 23, 2006 05:14 PM

Restaurants that prime wine glasses - Nonsense?

  • r

In SF a restaurant called Maverick, primes wine glasses. Another restaurant that does this is Babbo in NYC. Their site says they

"take a small amount of wine from a bottle, rinse out a series of glasses with it, then place the rinsed glasses on the table to be filled with the wine. This “priming” of the glasses is a little extra touch that we feel greatly enhances the wine-drinking experience. The point is to rid the glasses of off odors or other impurities, so that all you smell and taste when you take a sip is the wine."

So this gets SF diners at Maverick ticked off as an affectation and waste of wine. I mean, clean the glasses properly, will ya?

My understanding is that this started in Italy.

So do any restaurants you know do this? Do you do it at home? Where did this start?

One poster commented in the thread below

"Some times the wine is poured from glass to glass so that less is used. By this I mean that the first glass is rinsed, then the wine is poured into the next glass to rinse it, and on down the line. It would be interesting to hear from a sommelier on whether that is considered "proper" or if each glass should have a fresh splash directly from the bottle"


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  1. r
    Robert Lauriston

    It's easy to test. Take two clean, odor-free glasses. Prime one, don't prime another. Swirl the wine in both glasses so that they're both wet to the brim. See if a blindfolded taster can tell the difference.

    Somebody in that thread said say they "prime" this at Incanto, but I have ordered many bottles there and nobody ever did.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      First off, that assumes there is such as thing as an "odor-free" glass. Secondly, wetting the glass to the rim with the wine is the main benefit of priming. Doing this to both glasses will dramatically decrease the difference between the two, I believe.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        So you're saying that the following two actions produce a nearly
        indistinguishable result:

        1. Pour 1oz, swish, throw that away and replace with fresh 4oz and drink.
        2. Pour 4oz, swish, and drink.

        Since the first ("priming") wastes 1oz of wine, why the heck bother?

        Remember we're not talking about the refined setting of a comparitive
        wine tasting where as many variables as possible need to be controlled.
        We're talking about enjoying a nice glass of wine with dinner.

        Plus there's the ritualization and the "just like the europeans do it"
        mumbo jumbo that demand ridicule from any self-respecting chowhound.

        1. re: Jef

          I have, on more than one occasion, been presented with a wine and detected a faint chlorine bleach aroma. I thought the wines were corked. But after swirling the wine, dumping it, and getting a fresh pour, the bleach smell was gone. At home, I have often smelled a pond scum aroma in my glasses during those times of year when algae blooms in the local reservoirs and produces a bad (yet harmless) odor in the water. In those and similar circumstances, "enjoying a nice glass of wine with dinner" will be far easier if that off-odor is removed from the glassware.

          I'd rather lose 1oz of wine if it means maximizing my enjoyment of the remaining 24oz. I consider myself a self-respecting chowhound and I do not see this as ritualized mumbo jumbo.

          It has been argued that a respectable restaurant shouldn't have glasses with bad odors. But it would take thorough drying of each and every glass. Not only would that be very expensive (not just from the labor itself, but also from the inevitable breakage from handling the glassware so much), but it would create more problems with dust, lint, and other residues from the towels.

          It has already been said before that if you dislike the practice then to ask the staff not to do it. Is there a problem with that solution?


        2. re: Melanie Wong
          Robert Lauriston

          I define an odor-free glass as one that has no detectable smell before I pour wine into it.

          I usually smell glasses before pouring since I've had good wines ruined by off odors from glasses.

          Coating the inside of the glass with wine greatly increases the concentration of the aroma, but you can do that by swirling.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I haven't been presented with an odor-free glass in SF. A well-shaped wine glass concentrates the odor of the wine, and unfortunately, whatever is in the atmosphere too.

            At home I've been washing my tasting glasses with SF muni water, then drying them to avoid water marks with a close to lint-free linen towel that has been laundered without fabric softener and gone through two plain water rinse cycles. The residual odor from our water has been especially problematic for the last month or so. I could get close to an odor-free glass if I steamed the wine glasses using the pure water vapor and then let them air dry. Some restaurants may do this. But that would only be good for a few minutes, and by the time the glass cooled down enough to use, it wouldn't be odor-free anymore after picking up scents in the air.

            When I use my own just-washed glasses, I still do an avvinare by completely coating the inside of the glass to the brim by tilting the bowl fully horizontal. This is different than just a vigorous swirl. If I leave any part of the glass uncoated, I can still smell our City water. In that case, I don't toss away the wine. But if I didn't wash the glasses myself, I may, depending on how much the initial aroma of the glass bothers me.

            1. re: Melanie Wong
              Robert Lauriston

              Yow! Was your nose anywhere near that sensitive before the MofW training?

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                And it's hayfever season. (g)

                Fortunately, it seems to be a selective thing and I'm only tuned into whatever's intefering with the aroma of wine. Otherwise, it would be hard to walk down the street, I imagine, or eat in Chinatown. An amused chowhound emailed the link below to a piece on water tasting.


      2. "My understanding is that this started in Italy."

        Pretty much every wine producer in Italy will prime the glass before letting you taste their stuff.
        But they'll do it selectively, that is: if you are tasting a flight of, say, Barolos, they'll prime prior to the first pour, but not re-prime afterwards.
        On the other hand, if the same glass is used for, say, a Dolcetto and a (generic) Nebbiolo, then there'll be re-priming in-between.
        But again, we're talking wineries. I don't recall ever seeing glass priming at any Italian restaurant (any price level).

        1 Reply
        1. re: RicRios

          I was just in Italy in March and our glasses were primed at a restaurant in Siena.

        2. Amazing that great places like The French Laundry and Charlie Trotter's don't bother with this. I could also name any number of other outstanding places in SF wheee I've never seen this done.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Monty

            I wonder what the FL and Trotter's do to clean their glasses. A friend who had something to do at one time with Auberge du Soleil said they went through at least 4 washings of the glasses so that there would be nothing on the glass to interfere with the flavor of the wine. Acutally the proceedure sounded painfully difficult.

            Don't know if they still do this as it was long, long ago. However, maybe FL and Trotter's have similar proceedures in place. I wonder why Babbo doesn't go that route? I can understand a place like Maverick that wouldn't have the staff.

            Or maybe these places assume (probably correctly) that most people can't tell the difference. Why bother? Other than for show.

            1. re: rworange

              That most people can't tell the difference might be part of the reason. Wasn't there a study many years ago that showed that most Americans couldn't tell apart Coke and 7 Up if they couldn't see the color? But for tableside service, sometimes customer resistance comes into play. Many restaurants are reluctant to have screwcap wines on their list because they don't want to have to deal with explaining the superiority of screwcaps to their customers who aren't clued in or figuring out a way to create a tableside ceremony around it. From the reaction here, it doesn't sound like America is ready for avvinare.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Also meant to mention that some restaurants are trying to make customers feel more at ease about ordering wine. Adding another ritual that makes the customer feel uneducated and that could make them uncomfortable flies in the face of that.