I wrote an article a few years back on tasting room etiquette. One of the points I did not discuss was wearing lipstick. Well, I’ve been working in the wine business for seven years now, and after last weekend—and at the risk of offending anyone, i.e. women—I’ve decided to break my silence.
Lipstick is one of a tasting room host’s worst nightmares. Most lipsticks contain wax, oils, emollients, pigments, and dyes. Some contain all of the above, as well as pig fat, fish scales, and even lead. Others contain artificial flavorings—try chocolate, caramel, and, eek!, bubble gum—and sugar substitutes such as aspartame. The result is a sticky substance that practically tattoos itself to wine glasses. Furthermore, these ingredients—aside from doing god knows what to your lips—only interfere with your palate’s ability to truly experience the wine.
I went to work last weekend and was met with a fair share of dirty wine glasses. I found this odd because the glasses are always washed in the dishwasher the night before. Then I remembered that our dishwasher had been acting up the previous weekend. We were, however, able to fix it, but little did I know that the fix would be short-term. So, I stacked the glasses in the dishwasher, added detergent, and pressed the “start” button. Nothing happened. I pressed it again: still, nothing. I began to panic (having been down this road before) and pressed the start button repeatedly, and then all of the buttons on the panel in a frantic attempt to shake the dishwasher from its slumber. Yet, that soft hum that often precedes its awakening lay in silence. A feeling of dread encircled me. I had no choice: I needed clean glasses for the day, so I rolled up my sleeves and began washing them by hand.
For several minutes I was in the “zone,” peacefully doing my domestic chore. Suddenly, I was jarred from my Zen-like state when I grabbed from the countertop the most disgusting lipstick-stained wine glass I have ever seen—not just in my years of working behind the tasting bar, but in my entire life. A bright pink, stain at least one-inch long caked the circumference of the rim. The glass looked as if it had been smothered in sloppy, neon kisses. I couldn’t touch the bowl of the glass, at least not with my bare hands. I didn’t have rubber gloves and feared that some creepy “virus” spawned from the test tubes of the cosmetic giant responsible in part for this mess would find its way onto my skin before seeping into my pores.
I timidly picked up the glass by its stem and tried rinsing off the lipstick with steaming hot water from the tap. (And, trust me when I say that our water at the winery is hot enough to give you second-degree burns.) That didn’t work. So, I tried wiping it off with a paper towel, but that only smeared the icky substance even more. I had no choice but to brave my fear and confront the pink, gooey beast—gloves or no gloves. I wet the kitchen sponge, added some dishwashing liquid to its abrasive side, and scrubbed the heck out of the rim, nearly scratching the glass—the entire time contorting my face in disgust. I held up the glass to the light just to make sure that the pink monster was gone. It wasn’t, not entirely. A greasy silhouette remained. I wouldn’t give up. I continued scrubbing until my phobia of dirty glassware prevailed, and I finally eliminated my pink, neon adversary.
Dishwashers—even industrial ones—are no match for lipstick. Therefore, tasting room folks must resort to cleaning glasses the old fashion way, which, oddly enough, usually results in cleaner stemware. However, I really don’t enjoy washing lipstick-stained wine glasses by hand. I’d rather spend that time talking to customers about the wines I’m pouring. So with all due respect: When it comes to your lips, please go au naturel the next time you go wine tasting. Your palate will thank you, and, more important, your tasting room host will thank you.