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Bob Ross

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What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Bob Ross » Sun Sep 02, 2007 3:16 am

Tonight, the sommelier at Babbo brought our three glasses, each with a tiny bit of wine already poured into the glass. He said that Babbo now "primes" wine glasses [using the wine being poured].

He then poured the normal tasting amount into one of the glasses for Janet's approval -- I was designated driver tonight. After Janet pronounced it sound, he poured for the wine for our guest and for Janet, and a tiny bit more for me to taste.

I can understand "priming" a glass if the tiny bit of wine were then poured out of the glass, to rinse it and to make a small offering to the wine gods.

But this "priming" seems counter-productive to me -- it made it much harder for me to smell my glass to see if it was really clean -- the aroma of the wine, faint as it was, interfered with that essential inspection.

In any event, this is the first time I've encountered "priming" the glass. Is this a Babbo affectation? Or another of those wine ceremonies that is old hat to wine lovers, but news to me?

Please educate me, my fellow wine lovers.

Thanks, Bob
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Howie Hart » Sun Sep 02, 2007 8:48 am

I've been doing this for several years - not always, but sometimes, especially if I'll be using a glass that I know is clean, but hasn't been used in a while. I'll pour a small bit of wine in the glass, swirl it and look for the "legs". If the "legs" aren't quite right, I'll wipe it out with a paper towel. The bit of wine acts as a cleaning solvent.
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Thomas » Sun Sep 02, 2007 9:10 am

Sounds suspiciously either like theater or a way to circumvent the customer smelling the dishwasher cleaner.
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Robin Garr » Sun Sep 02, 2007 9:16 am

Bob, I don't think it has to be either-or ... certainly a wine wash (more common term, I think) is an effective way to remove any possible "off" odors from the glass. But it <i>also</i> sounds affected. I can't recall ever seeing it done in a restaurant setting in Italy or France, even at some mighty fancy culinary temples.
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Victorwine » Sun Sep 02, 2007 12:21 pm

Hi Bob,
This was taken from the Babbo restaurant's web-site;
Diners often look on curiously when we take a small amount of wine from a bottle, rinse out a series of glasses with it, and 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.

Salute
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Bob Ross » Sun Sep 02, 2007 12:35 pm

Aha, Victor, thanks. And thanks to everyone else.

Although the Babbo blurb is ambiguous, the sommelier said that he used the wine from the bottle he was serving us, which makes sense of course.

But what good does it do to leave the priming wine in the glass. Like Howie, I've often rinsed a glass with a small bit of wine, and then poured it out. In this case, I thought like Thomas the small amount of wine might actually mask off flavors.

I'm off to write one of my culinary heroes a little letter about my perception of a flaw in his wine presentation -- there should be a little silver bucket on the table to pour out the primer, I believe.

Thanks all.

I'll revert with any responses.

Regards, Bob

PS: the food was superb, the wine a very good match, and the service impeccable, at this one of our very favorite restaurants.
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Thomas » Sun Sep 02, 2007 2:53 pm

Randy R wrote:
Robin Garr wrote: I can't recall ever seeing it done in a restaurant setting in Italy or France, even at some mighty fancy culinary temples.
Agreed, Robin, although I recall the verb aviner, ("aveenay") and had learned it with a sommelier friend who did this when one glass had a different wine in it first. If tasting different wines in one glass, the glass was first emptied, then avinée, then the regular pour of the next wine. Before anyone complains about wasting wine, you wouldn't do this with an expensive wine since you'd have a clean glass for it, right?


As a wine salesman, I always did that when pouring a line of wines for a prospective customer.
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Bill Hooper » Sun Sep 02, 2007 4:45 pm

How was dinner?
Wein schenkt Freude
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Bob Ross » Sun Sep 02, 2007 5:00 pm

See footnote above, Bill -- in a word, wonderful!

PS: the food was superb, the wine a very good match, and the service impeccable, at this one of our very favorite restaurants.
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Oliver McCrum » Sun Sep 02, 2007 6:37 pm

Rinsing glasses out with wine is very common in Italy*. It is done almost invariably when tasting, both with a fresh glass and when changing from one wine to another. I can't think of a producer I deal with who doesn't do this. (The small amount of wine used is usually poured away after being used to rinse out all the glasses, though.)

More formal restaurants in Italy commonly do it with a fresh glass, and I imagine this is where Babbo took the idea from.

I think it's an great idea with fresh glasses; even the most careful restaurant can have problems with rinse-aid, chloriney water, food smells, or whatever. Sometimes aromas aren't even apparent until a liquid is poured into the glass, which means just sniffing the glass won't help. I do it often at home, and when tasting with trade customers. Doing it when moving from one wine to another, particularly if the wines are similar, seems a bit much to me but is very common in Italy.

* 'avvinare' in Italian
Last edited by Oliver McCrum on Mon Sep 03, 2007 11:26 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Sun Sep 02, 2007 9:24 pm

What the heck, I have just cross-primed!!!! Last glass of Naked Chardonnay, glass swilled out with Crios Malbec. Ready to go...and I saved on washing up!!
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Nathan Smyth » Sun Sep 02, 2007 10:12 pm

Bob Ross wrote:What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

Some people believe that it helps to get the soap stains out of the glass.

[Soap stains in a wine glass are effectively the same thing as TCA.]
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Jenise » Mon Sep 03, 2007 3:03 pm

Nathan Smyth wrote:
Bob Ross wrote:What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

Some people believe that it helps to get the soap stains out of the glass.

[Soap stains in a wine glass are effectively the same thing as TCA.]


I think we all understand that, but if you don't pour the primer wine out, then you've accomplished nothing--right?
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Thomas » Mon Sep 03, 2007 6:39 pm

Jenise wrote:
Nathan Smyth wrote:
Bob Ross wrote:What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

Some people believe that it helps to get the soap stains out of the glass.

[Soap stains in a wine glass are effectively the same thing as TCA.]


I think we all understand that, but if you don't pour the primer wine out, then you've accomplished nothing--right?


Right. It's theater at Babbo.
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Jenise » Mon Sep 03, 2007 6:43 pm

Thomas wrote:
Jenise wrote:
Nathan Smyth wrote:
Right. It's theater at Babbo.


Si. :) Might be useful though, from a defensive point of view, of eliminating some complaints from some customers who expect a young Italian sangiovese to taste more like the Yellow Tail they drink at home.
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Mark Lipton » Tue Sep 04, 2007 1:35 am

Nathan Smyth wrote:
[Soap stains in a wine glass are effectively the same thing as TCA.]


Err... Nathan, is this an example of "proof by assertion"? Soap is not at all related chemically to TCA, nor have I ever detected in soap any sensory resemblance to TCA, so in what sense are they "effectively the same thing"?

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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Jenise » Tue Sep 04, 2007 2:42 am

Mark Lipton wrote:
Nathan Smyth wrote:
[Soap stains in a wine glass are effectively the same thing as TCA.]


Err... Nathan, is this an example of "proof by assertion"? Soap is not at all related chemically to TCA, nor have I ever detected in soap any sensory resemblance to TCA, so in what sense are they "effectively the same thing"?

Mark Lipton


I understood what he meant--they are not the same problem from the same source, but they both negate/mask the natural aromas of the wine.
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Covert » Tue Sep 04, 2007 4:24 am

I can't get the idea of dishwater out of my mind when I consider this Babbo practice.
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Diane (Long Island) » Wed Sep 05, 2007 12:02 am

I love Babbo. Terrific food, great wine list, and I'm so used to the "priming," that I don't think about it anymore.
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Bob Ross » Wed Sep 05, 2007 12:11 am

I agree on all your points, Diane, but I don't remember seeing the priming before. We've eaten there at least six times in the last 12 months, the most recent before a week ago in March.

Could they have started priming so recently?
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Diane (Long Island) » Wed Sep 05, 2007 12:15 am

Bob Ross wrote:I agree on all your points, Diane, but I don't remember seeing the priming before. We've eaten there at least six times in the last 12 months, the most recent before a week ago in March.

Could they have started priming so recently?


Bob - they have been doing it for years. I also believe they do it at Esca. Maybe at all of Mario's restaurants. I'll find out about Del Posto when we go there this weekend. Did they refer to it as "priming" or "seasoning?"
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Bob Ross » Wed Sep 05, 2007 12:20 am

He called it "priming". Maybe it's not done for everyone?

Robin and Mary joined us at Babbo awhile back -- I wonder if Robin remembers that bit of theater?

We tried Del Posto and Esca within the past year and I'm sure they didn't prime or season the glasses. At least, they didn't do so for us.

Maybe it's reserved for New Yorkers -- not necessary for Jerseyites? :)
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Diane (Long Island) » Wed Sep 05, 2007 12:22 am

So, it will be interesting to see what they do at Del Posto as we New Yorkers will be dining with Jerseyites. :)
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Re: What's the purpose of "priming" a wine glass?

by Rahsaan » Wed Sep 05, 2007 12:49 am

Personally I don't see why they have to take it upon themselves to do this on behalf of the guests.

I always "prime" my wines glasses, it's called the first sip :D

And I make the first pour small for exactly that purpose.
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