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Good Housekeeping

Posted: February 3, 2000

Good Housekeeping

By Matt Kramer, columnist

I don't know about you, but I rather like the quotidian chores of wine: hauling bottles to and fro, cleaning wine glasses, getting the wine temperature right and so forth. It seems to me that this isn't so much geeky (well, it is if you're obsessive about it) as "home and hearth"-y. Besides, I like playing with my toys.

So in the spirit of well-folded shirts (light starch, thank you) and polished silver, it's a fine thing to consider the niceties of wine housekeeping.

For example: How the hell do you clean Riedel glasses? I don't know about you, but I've wrestled with these beauties, and, boy, if there's any sort of a deposit in the water or even a moderately lousy rinse job, Riedel glasses broadcast the news to everyone in the neighborhood. A word of advice: Never serve wine on a sunny day. Those sunbeams show everything.

Now, the actual cleaning is no big deal. And, believe it or not, even breakage isn't a concern. Oh, sure, I've broken a few, but not many. (Not at those prices.) I know others have this problem, and in my "hints from Heloise" mode, I'll tell you how to avoid breakage.

First, don't hold onto the glass with an iron grip. This may seem like chancing fate, but part of the problem is that when you hold on tight, you increase the odds of twisting off the stem.

Second, don't use a sponge or other grippy-type instrument to do the cleaning. Instead, use one of those round plastic-mesh scrubbers, like a Tuffy pad. That way, when you're cleaning the rim, you won't twist the bowl off the stem, because the scrubber won't grip.

The real problem is getting the glasses spotless. Because I've been a guest in Georg Riedel's home, I've seen the meister himself in action. I admit that what I'm about to describe would be geeky if anyone other than Georg Riedel himself was doing it. But it does work.

What Georg doesÑafter first washing and rinsing the glasses in the usual wayÑis briefly hold the interior and exterior of each glass over the spout of a tea kettle filled with distilled water. After giving the glass a good steam, he then polishes it with a soft lint-free cloth. I have to admit, after this full steam clean, he can take on any sunbeam.

This "extreme clean" does eliminate one other problem: smells that accumulate inside the glass. These can come from detergents or especially from prolonged storage in a closed cabinet. And it gets amplified in big Riedel-type glasses. After all, they're designed to amplify wine scents, so it's hardly surprising that they have the same effect with less desirable smells.

This explains, by the way, the seemingly affected practice of "seasoning" the glasses, which is a specialty of fine restaurants in Italy. Using the wine you ordered, the waiter pours a small amount into one glass, swirls the glass to coat the bowl and then pours it into the next glass. A couple of tablespoons of wine suffices to "season" all the glasses, eliminating any smells clinging to the bowls.

The first time I saw this, I thought, "Come on. That's a bit much." But after living in Italy, I learned firsthand why they do it. Our house in Piedmont came with some nice antiques, one of which was an old armoire. We stored our wine glasses in it. Despite impeccable cleanliness (and lined shelves), sure enough, the glasses picked up a musty scent pronto. Then I noticed that a lot of small Italian restaurants stored their best glasses in old, decorative cabinets. Now I always "season" our glasses before pouring the wine -- even though our wineglass cabinet is new and the glasses hang from racks. You'd think that would do it, right? No way. Georg Riedel came by for dinner, and I asked him to smell the glasses. "A very slight mustiness," he said. Damn.

While we're on the subject of cleaning, this is a good moment to put an end to the aggravating question, "How do you get rid of stains in decanters?" Every so often on Internet wine-chat boards, people complain about how their decanters are stained with red wine and they can't get them clean.

You wanna know what really works? Bleach. Just pour it in, slosh it around and pour it out. Then rinse the decanter about half a dozen times with hot water. I promise you that even Georg Riedel won't smell a thing.

This column, Unfiltered, Unfined, features the opinionated inside scoop on the latest and greatest in the world of wine, brought to you each Monday by a different Wine Spectator editor. This week we hear from columnist Matt Kramer. To read past Unfiltered, Unfined columns, go to the archives. (And for an archive of James Laube's columns written just for the Web, visit Laube on Wine.)

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