Wine rituals

The enjoyment of wine sometimes involves a number of little rituals which to the outsider can seem a little pompous and even downright strange! We have the ritual of sniffing and inspecting the cork after opening the bottle. We have the weird cabbalistic symbolism of passing the port decanter to the left – well, actually the host pours the port to the person on the right, then pours his own, then passes the decanter to the person to the left; the decanter must then go around the table, each person pouring his own, and must never come to rest on the table until it returns to the host. (I don’t think anybody really knows the full reason behind this one!)

We have corkscrews and wine keys, some resembling antique torture devices, for every possible occasion. Not to mention decanting devices that come right out of Rube Goldberg!

We have wine glasses for every style of wine. Glasses for reds and glasses for whites, glasses for just about any wine region or grape variety you can mention.

Fashion statements, I suppose, can become rituals, too. Note the wine charms that were so popular at wine parties a few years ago. And now I’m beginning to see wine koozies – Woozies I believe they’re called – that cover your glass much like a koozie covers your bottle of beer. (I think I’d better reserve my judgment on these and just say if you want to have fun with them – go ahead and enjoy! – there are worse things you could be doing.)

As far as I’m concerned, I can and sometimes do involve myself in these little rituals if the situation demands. But at home I prefer to keep everything as simple as possible. I use a simple ‘waiter’s friend’ wine key. I use only either Bordeaux or Burgundy glasses for all still wines, plus champagne flutes and, because I love sherry, sherry copitas. That’s all. Nice and simple, no?

But I do have one wine ritual which I recommend to anyone who loves wine. It originated in Italy, I believe, but you see it more and more in the wine world at large. It’s called preparing (or seasoning, or sometimes priming) the glass. This simply means that you pour a little wine in your glass, swirl it around to coat the inside, then pour from that glass to the next and swirl, and so on down the line. At the last glass you pour that dash of wine out, and then fill the glasses with a normal serving. Now you’ve prepared the glass for the wine – it’s a baptism of sorts! – but also removes any extraneous cupboard or soap odors from the glass, and I swear it helps bring out the aromas of the wine.

With the holidays coming up, I’ll mention one other ritual I have. For special occasions when I’m pouring really great wines I keep a silver or gold oil-based pen handy. When the bottle is finished I note the date and the occasion on the bottle and have everyone there sign it and make comments if they want to. Then it goes up on a top shelf with the other memorable bottles from parties past.

So what’s your ritual?

Bill Stobbs, Wine Supervisor, West Florida

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