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Sep 8, 2009 09:05 AM

Seasoning the glass?

Had a fabulous meal at Osteria Mozza this past weekend but they did something that baffled us. We ordered a bottle of wine & they brought us each a glass with about a teaspoon of wine in it. Then she came with the bottle & poured a tasting amount in my friend's glass. At first we thought the teaspoon was for each of us to taste so were suprised when she then poured a reasonable amount and asked my friend to taste. I saw this done at the table next to us also so I asked their wine server what that was all about & he gave some mumbo jumbo about "seasoning the glass" but then also said something about the glasses getting dusty overnight. Huh? You are washing out glasses with my wine? Please someone shed some light on this. thanks

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    1. Not sure if Mozza is the only place doing this but the topic below is pretty recent:

      The seasoning thing appears to be something of a controversy when the glass is supposedly newly cleaned. I've had high-end winery owners and sales reps do it just to be sure MY glasses were not tainted by anything before they had me taste. AND I've had it done between tastes of different wines in the same glass. Both make sense to me.

      I've concluded that this is one of those things that has to do with your personal level of 'wine geekdom', not to mean that in even the least way as disparaging. If you have a highly sensitive palate, or feel like you do, 'seasoning' is probably the best way to get a completely non-tainted taste. The thing is, though, that only a very small percentage of wine drinkers have palates that are that sensitive or educated. If you're not into it, it just seems like they're wasting your wine.

      Just my $.02, but I'm pretty firm in my belief on this.

      1. Wow--thanks for the responses. So I guess we looked like country bumpkins when we drank the teaspoon of wine that was in the glass. We thought that was for tasting! How embarassing---now I know.

        16 Replies
        1. re: sparkareno

          I had the full ceremony in Montalcino, Italy where they poured a small amount, observed it with a candle, seasoned the glasses, seasoned the decanter and left it on the table. This was an outstanding Brunello, so I drank that small amount too. I wanted to see if I could taste a difference (no) and I wasn't embarassed at all, just thirsty. I did enjoy the ceremony.

          1. re: sparkareno

            Well................ as far as my experience with this goes, the idea is for the server to pour a little wine in the glass, swirl it around and pour it out for you. That's what 'seasons' the glass.
            If they just poured it in the glass..........and left it for you, I don't know . Was there something for you to pour it out into? Otherwise, I'm pretty much stumped by the specifics as you've related then.

            1. re: Midlife

              No, she just set down a glass in front of each of us with about 1 tsp of wine in each.

              1. re: sparkareno

                That must have been for you to taste. Where the 'seasoning' thing came from must have been a misunderstanding on the part of the 'wine server' as to what you were asking about. A small pour to taste and seasoning a glass are two completely different things.

                1. re: Midlife

                  No it was not for us to taste as 1. it was barely a teaspoon & 2. she came over right after setting the glasses down & poured a tasting amount in my friend's glass. That's why we asked about it.

                  1. re: sparkareno

                    The aspect of it that is so odd is that the server apparently did the seasoning out of your sight. If that also meant she opened the bottle out of your sight, THAT is not normal and is not proper wine service.

                    1. re: Midlife

                      Yes, I thought the same thing about removing the cork out of our sight. One of the owners of this restaurant is Joe Bastianich who is no slouch in the wine department so I imagine he had some input as to the procedures.

              2. re: Midlife

                I've run into the situation where they pour a little wine in each glass of the man and the woman. It's to taste the wine to see if it's OK but not offend by assuming that the man is the superior wine aficionado. It’s silly because whoever orders the wine should be the taster.

                1. re: BN1

                  I believe the "seasonning" is an elegant way of "rinsing" the glass of any leftover "smells" it may have acquired in storage. ...

                  Even a recent machine wash could leave a residual "soapy" odour....whereeas a fresh "rinse" or "season" using your fine wine would ensure the dominant smell would be that of your exquisite beverage.

                  1. re: Aosta

                    Aosta, I agree. I believe if the rinse water is heavily chlorinated, seasoning is especially important.

                    1. re: BN1

                      So I assume that both you and Aosta regularly season your own glasses in restaurants (when not performed by the server) and at home?


                      1. re: Chinon00

                        My house has well water, a water softener, filters plus a reverse osmosis purifier for drinking and rinsing wine glasses. We use a minimum of soap and towel dry. We have no worries about chlorine at home.

                        If I change from white to red using the same glass at home, I pour a little in, swirl it around and drink it before I put in a normal pour. We usually have a white and a red with dinner at home, so if I went from say Sauvignon Blanc to Zinfandel or Sangiovese, I would prime the glass.

                        I don’t worry about glasses if they are spotless because I figure they have been wiped clean. I would certainly hate to have an expensive wine tainted. I do look them over before any wine is poured. I enjoy wine and like to try new ones at restaurants. I'm flexible and at many places I go if they can just get the cork out of the bottle in one piece (they usually fail since Italian corks are extra long), I'm happy. At other more serious restaurants, they know to bring me better stemware, because I think it adds to the enjoyment of the wine.

                        1. re: BN1

                          Understand and agree with your comments regarding this issue. Looking over the wine glass is important but it's also very important for all to remember... ALWAYS smell the glass. This is key. If they weren't rinsed properly you'll notice an oder and this of course will effect the wine negatively. This is common and I'd estimate I run into problems with the glass about 40% of the time. This problem, poor wine glasses in general, and red wine served too warm (not in temperature controlled storage) are a few of my biggest pet peeves regarding wine service in restaurants.


                          1. re: BN1

                            So if you're not seasoning at home (RO system), only want the server to get the cork out of the bottle successfully at middle restaurants and generally eyeball the stemware when you're at higher end places, when DO you season stemware then?


                            1. re: Chinon00

                              Honestly, now that you ask, I season every wine glass at a restaurant. When they pour that little taste to check that the wine is not corked, I swirl it all around the glass, smell it, then drink it. That taste is never representative of how the wine evolves but just tests whether it is spoiled or not. In effect, I have primed my glass every time and the subsequent pours always taste better. I enjoy the ceremony when they do it for me in Europe.

                              1. re: BN1

                                My point is that you aren’t actually slowly rolling the bowl horizontally, coating the inner surface with wine and then dumping the excess (like during an actual seasoning). Like you said a quick swirl will accomplish the same thing. And between different wines a similar swirl/ rinse with a dump is appropriate to remove the previous wine.
                                Seasoning is mostly, as you put it, ceremony. I’ve only ever seen it done at formal wine tastings (and ain’t sure how important it is there either).
                                Some of these wine rituals like seasoning being considered as you put it “especially important” (rather than mere ceremony or showiness), can appear pretentious to others and really give wine lovers a snooty reputation I think.


              3. I'll address 2 things... the practice of seasoning a glass... and also the experience you described at Mozza... which I find quite unusual.

                Your Mozza experience is very unprofessional on many levels. First of all the waitress should have made it clear what she was doing... whatever is was? A teaspoon of wine in each glass is too small to be considered a taste... and if it were a taste, albeit a tiny one, the waitstaff should have presented it as such. So, what was in each glass? Was it a different wine, or wine from the bottle you ordered? I get the impression it was wine from the bottle ordered... in which case, wine from your bottle should NEVER be poured to every guest before offering it to the "host" (or whomever they are presenting the wine to to taste)... that's the idea of asking the "host" to taste the wine to check if there are any problems with it. If there is a problem then you don't pour it to the other guests. Another problem is, "What is the guest supposed to do with the wine that was presented?.. drink it? Seems this was never made clear by the waitress. This is a good case of a place trying to do the right thing but failing miserably.

                Seasoning a wine glass: This is a practice that can have practical merit... is rarely done... and if it is it's generally done in very high end restaurants, particularly in Europe. That said, I do it on occasion at home for a few reasons (which you may figure on your own when you see the description of the process)... and sometimes in a restaurant when the glasses have no hope of being odor-free. The reason it's not done more often is that it is very time consuming... it's not understood by most people... it's not something most people care about or find necessary. The truth is, because of the VERY poor wine glass washing methods of most restaurants, it should be done more regularly. Interestingly enough it's needed more in the lesser restaurants in the US than the higher end ones who take more care in the washing wine glasses

                THE PROCESS: After checking to see if the wine is sound (either by taste or smell) the sommelier pours a small amount of wine into the first clean wine glass and swirls it to coat the glass. This treats (or rinses) the glass by taking away any smells or residues that might be found prior. This wine is then transferred into the next wine glass and the process is repeated until all of the glasses are "seasoned". If the wine is being decanted, then this wine is poured into the decanter to "season" the decanter. When all is done, this wine is discarded. When you smell the glass it should now smell like the wine. As you see this method uses very little of the wine.

                Mozza failed on many levels. The customer is not supposed to season the glass themselves and pouring wine into each glass will waste a lot of the wine. Since the waitress did such a poor job in handling this process I bet that most people drank the wine they were presented. The idea is to discard the "wine wash". Mozza needs to get their act together in this regard.

                As a practical matter, if a wine glass is properly cleaned and is odor free, there is really no reason to season the glass... but it's a nice thing to remember for the times you need to use it.


                1 Reply
                1. re: WineAG

                  I believe the teaspoon of wine that was in our glasses when they were set down in front of us is what was left after the wine was poured out---she must not have done a good job of pouring it all out. So we both tasted that, THEN she came over & poured my friend a tasting which is why we were stumped---we thought that little bit was our tasting! Oh well--thanks to you I know.