CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL: Want to make those glasses shine? Try soap
By Lawrence B. Johnson
There’s something about wine and its enjoyment that elicits a good deal of nonsense, silly notions and wacky practices. The idea that dish soap should never touch a wine glass ranks high on that list.
I like pouring wine into a sparkling-clean glass. And the only way I know to make a glass glisten is to wash it, by hand and with the same liquid detergent I use on my prized kitchen cutlery and fragile table ware. (Putting wine stems in the dishwasher is a scary thought.) I’ve never been sold on the hot water-only, no-soap approach to cleaning wine glasses.
Why one might want to avoid soap is perhaps understandable. You certainly don’t want a residue, or even a faint scent, of soap in the glass. But that’s easily avoided by thorough rinsing.
I’m very sensitive to foreign aromas in a wine glass. At restaurants, I routinely poke my nose into the empty glass when it’s placed in front of me, just as I do when the wine is poured. I’ll reject any glass that emits even the most subtle odor, the most common of which is chlorine – and that’s typically not subtle. I’ll also turn away a glass that’s streaked.
But I have known wine buffs who refused even to apply a towel to their glasses. One acquaintance got over that phobia after repeated disasters: His preferred glasses were the Riedel Sommelier series, elegant vessels with exceptionally delicate stems. My friend would wash each glass by running it under very hot water, using no soap, and partially dry it by flicking away the excess water with a whipping motion as he held the glass by its stem. After snapping off the stems of three glasses, he returned to conventional, non-destructive toweling. He still doesn’t use soap.
I’ve had my own calamities washing wine glasses in the sink. I learned the hard way that water creates suction in a submerged glass. I once pulled a glass from the water by its base, only to have an opposing force tug it back into the water so violently that it slipped from my hand and smashed into another glass, shattering both. Now I lift glasses from the sudsy water with two hands, by base and rim. I’ve also had a good-quality glass simply fall apart in my hands during the washing process.
But the worst was the time a heavy cutting board, which I kept propped against the counter backsplash adjacent to the sink, fell forward, sending six freshly washed glasses to their deaths on the floor below. Some of my best glasses, those. The wayward board was relocated.
Thoroughly cleaning a decanter presents its own set of problems. Only occasionally do I use soap. The secret is to give a decanter a good rinsing with clear water shortly after use, before the residual wine dries in it. Then the trick is to get all the water out, and the perfect solution is a drying stand designed for decanters. I place the drying stand on a plate to catch the water — and the surprising residue of wine from what seemed like a well-rinsed vessel. Let the inverted decanter drain on the stand over night and, voilà, a sparkling container for coaxing the best from your next bottle of wine.