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Stop Rinsing that Glass!
By Marguerite Thomas
Jan 15, 2013
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At various wine events I’ve watched countless numbers of people slosh some water in their glass, dump it out, then hold the glass up for a new wine to be poured in it.  I’ve even seen professional tasters perform this ritual, and each time I have to force myself not to scream STOP!  I’ve usually held by tongue since I couldn’t prove that this practice is more apt to harm than enhance the fresh pour, but I’m speaking out against the rinsing ritual now that I’ve read what Jason Haas, partner and general manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard, has to say on the subject. 

What’s wrong with rinsing?  “At best you dilute the wine,” wrote Haas in a recent Tablas Creek newsletter.  “At worst you change its flavors, often dramatically, with chlorine or other minerals that were in the water.”  To back up his argument, Haas asked Tablas Creek winemaker Ryan Herbert to figure out how much a swish of water in the glass actually dilutes the new wine poured into it.  So Herbert swirled water in a glass, poured it out, and held the glass upside down for a few seconds.  He then added new wine to the glass and measured the alcohol levels of the wine in its freshly rinsed glass compared to wine in a dry glass.  What he discovered is that the residual water dilutes a typical 1-ounce pour of wine 6.9%.  Doesn’t sound like much to you?  Well, put it in this other perspective:  “We would get the same effect by pouring roughly eleven gallons of water into each ton of wine,” explained Haas.  In addition to affecting the taste, the film of water in the glass has an even greater impact on the wine’s texture, thinning it out and shortening the finish. 

Even distilled water had a negative effect.  Mineral water, filtered water, tap water--the outcome was even more unpredictable.  When the Tablas Creek team tried the experiment using filtered water and their 2011 Picpoul Blanc, they found that the water’s high mineral content dropped the amount of malic acid in the wine from 0.21 grams per liter to 0.08 g/liter “presumably because the acids in the wine bonded with the basic particles in the mineral-rich water.”

So what to do when tasting different wines?  Well, nothing, usually.  “Remember, most wine tastes--and is structured from a chemical standpoint--a lot more like most other wines than like water,” says Haas.  But if you are moving back from red to white, or need to remove a particularly aggressive flavor from the glass (TCA for example), try to rinse your glass with a tiny bit of the next wine to be tasted.  Haas notes that it doesn’t take much to do the trick.  “And you’ll make your pourer even happier if you make it clear in advance that you’d like a rinse,” he adds, describing the dismay he feels when he offers someone a full pour of a scarce wine and then watches the person swirl it, dump it, and hold the glass out for another pour. 

I hope I’ve convinced you about the foibles of rinsing your glass with water.  But here’s another pet peeve:  Have you noticed those people who swirl the wine around in their glass with their bare hand covering its rim?  What’s up with that?  I assume they’re trying to “trap” the wine’s aromas inside the glass, but what this ritual actually does is permeate the surface of the glass with all the odors that cling to a human hand (moisturizer, sweat, residue from a ham sandwich, etc.)  Perhaps we can get the Tablas Creek crew to investigate this bad habit next….