If You Crave Crystal, You Should Sip Safely


April 14, 1991|By ROB KASPER

Daredevil that I am, I'm going to continue drinking wine poured from a crystal wine decanter.

I had pretty much forgotten that we owned a crystal decanter until I spotted the short story in the newspaper the other day. The story said two scientists from Columbia University in New York, Joseph H. Graziano and Conrad Blum, had found that lead can migrate from crystal to wine and spirits after the liquids have XTC been poured in a crystal container.

There are no federal standards for the level of lead that is permitted to leach from crystal. But since high concentrations of lead can damage the nervous system, kidneys and bone marrow, especially in small children and fetuses, the Food and Drug Administration has issued some suggestions on safe sipping from crystal.

I plan to follow some of the FDA suggestions, but not all of them.

I guess I will abide by the major recommendation, not to adopt the swigging style of Reginald Van Gleason 3rd. This will hurt.

Reginald, a character played by late Jackie Gleason, was the richest man in the world. He had a smoking jacket, an ascot and a retractable bar, and he used to pour himself libations from a crystal decanter.

I have always wanted to live like Reginald, or at least to drink like him. I dream of coming home the way Reginald did. He swaggered over to the sideboard, pulled the lid off the crystal decanter and poured himself a drink.

It was stylish, but according to the FDA, it may not be safe. The FDA now says we shouldn't store booze or any acidic liquid like fruit juice or vinegar in crystal. If the liquid stays in the crystal decanter any longer than overnight there is a chance that lead will migrate from the crystal to the liquid.

So it looks like I will have to abandon my fantasy of returning home like Reginald.

I won't have nearly as much trouble abiding by two other FDA suggestions. First, do not use your lead crystal every day. And second, do not let kids drink from crystal bottles or glasses.

I wish the income-tax laws were as easy to follow as these recommendations. Ours is a household where the crystal glasses appear annually, not daily. We keep them stowed away, along with our other wedding presents, in a cabinet that is off limits to anyone under 5 feet tall.

And when the crystal glasses do come out of hiding, we don't let the kids within a 10-foot radius of them.

We do this because we know that kids break anything made of glass, unless it is ugly. In the past five years at our house dozens of graceful glasses have been reduced to smithereens. But a squat, smoky black glass with the insignia of the Cincinnati Bengals on it that I got at a gas station is still standing.

We do have a crystal decanter. At least it was still in one piece this morning when I left the house.

The decanter was made in Ireland, and it weighs, as the Irish would say "several stone."

The other night I went through an elaborate procedure to figure out exactly how heavy a full decanter is.

First I put the decanter on the kitchen scale and saw that with nothing in it, the decanter weighed 4 1/2 pounds. The decanter, shaped like an upside-down mushroom, was so big that I had to tilt it to make it fit on the scale. This meant I couldn't put a full decanter on the scale.

So next I weighed a bottle of wine. The bottle of wine weighed 2 1/2 pounds when it was full, and 1 pound when the wine was


That meant that the wine itself weighed 1 1/2 pounds. When the liquid was in the decanter, I figured the extra weight would push the full decanter up to 6 pounds.

I know from experience that pouring a glass of wine from a 6-pound decanter is much harder than pouring wine from a 2 1/2 -pound bottle. Theoretically, the decanter should get lighter as you pour the second or third glass of wine.

But in practice, it doesn't feel that way to me. Instead, the pouring gets harder. Dispensing a glass of wine from the decanter requires a good grip, clear focus and upper body strength.

So that is why I am going to continue drinking wine from the decanter. It gives me a good workout.

The wine never stays in the decanter longer than overnight, so the lead risk is minimal.

Moreover, wine seems to taste better when it comes from a classy-looking decanter.

At the end of a Sunday meal, when the kids have been sent into exile and the remnants of supper are scattered on the table, I find it comforting to gaze at the crystal decanter.

Looking at the fine crystal reassures me that despite the chaos of a family meal, there is a civilization. And, as Reginald might say of that feeling, "How sweet it is."

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