The Thrilling Agony of Rinsing Wine Glasses

Do you worry about how best to rinse your fine glassware? Do you need to rinse if you serve more than one wine in the same glass. Well fret no more!

Let’s look at two types of rinsing: 1) Rinsing glasses after use and 2) rinsing glassware in order to serve more than one wine per glass.

1. Rinsing after use

For thin walled crystal or thin walled glass, it is best to rinse by hand. I recommend using a glass brush and minimal diluted detergent, using lukewarm water. Obviously, you’ll want to brush gently. Make sure all of the detergent is rinsed out. Let the glasses dry on a clean, dry cloth. To best polish glassware, steam over boiling water, then use a clean polishing cloth. To polish the bowl, cradle the bowl in one hand while polishing with the other hand. Never twist the bowl against the stem -something will break! To polish the stem or base, hold by the stem or base.

The problem with using a dishwasher is two-fold. You are more likely to break fine glassware and the glasses are more likely to contain detergent residue. If you must use a dishwasher, use only a tiny amount of detergent (gels or fine grain, preferably with glass guard like Cascade (with Shine Shield) and use cool water. Only wash glass with glass – never with plates or silverware.

Even a small amount of detergent residue can have a big impact on the wine therein. For still wine, residue can affect aroma and taste. Detergent residue can render sparkling wine, like Champagne, flat. The smooth surfaces of glassware absorb odors easily so smell the glasses before use, when they’re dry, for off-odors like soap, chlorine, etc. If detected, wash again!

By the way, lead leaches out of crystal when the glass is in contact with hot or even warm water. So no soaking and no hot water!

2. Rinsing for multiple wines

Sometimes, you are hosting a dinner or tasting and you don’t have enough glasses to provide one for every wine. What to do?

I do not recommend rinsing with water between wines; rather use wine to rinse. I believe that water residues can affect the taste of the wine, especially if the water is even slightly chlorinated. I also believe that there is a slight dilution factor and there might be a slight change in surface tension and mouth-feel of the wine. To be safe, rinse with wine. Use a tiny amount of the next wine to be served to rinse. This is also called “priming” the glass.

If you carefully order the wines to be tasted, you can minimize your rinsing. Go from white to red, from light body to fuller body, from dry to sweet. If you follow this order, you may not need to rinse at all. If you go from a hearty red with dinner to a white dessert wine, I recommend rinsing with a dry white or, if not available, then using water, providing a cloth to dry the bowl.

Priming Glassware

By the way, a small but growing number of high-end restaurants are having their sommeliers “prime” glassware by rinsing with a very small amount (half an ounce or less) of the wine to be served. They believe this improves the tasting experience by ridding the glass of impurities or possible off-odors. But I wonder if this is necessary if you properly clean and polish your glassware. Sometimes they leave the priming wine in the glass and then pour the serving over it. Why? Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of “priming”?

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