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Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

I was at a fine dining restaurant (one of my favorites), and I ordered an expensive, mature Bordeaux, which the sommelier proceeded to decant. He poured about a third of a glass of the wine into a decanter, swirled it around, poured it into a clean glass and went to the kitchen, returning with the decanter. I asked him what he was doing because it appeared unusual to me.

He replied that there was a bit of water in the decanter and he just wanted to rinse it out! I was quite dumbfounded. Not wanting to embarrass him in front of my guests, I whispered to him that the decanter should have been bone-dry before decanting the wine. What he did was technically incorrect. He apologized and I let the matter rest. What is your take on this? Am I being too petty?

—H.F.C., Malaysia

Dear H.F.,

I can see why this would bother you, but in the end, I think the server handed the situation well. Yes, it would be best if the decanter were dry to begin with. But the practice of “priming” or “seasoning” a decanter (or wineglass) is one I like so much, I’ve started doing it at home. I give my glassware a splash and swirl of wine to temper any odors they might have picked up from being stored in my wooden cabinets, or to mitigate any dust that might have settled inside.

I’ve seen this practice at some very nice restaurants, too, though it’s never been—as far as I can tell—a way to fix a mistake with the glassware. Without knowing all the circumstances, I can’t tell if your server was being heroic or lazy, but in the end it sounds like you got the wine, and without any negative affects from the decanter. I’d put that in the win column.

—Dr. Vinny


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