When you write a weekly wine blog as I do you are always trying to come up with interesting topics to write about and look for ideas wherever you can.
Each Thursday some of us in the office gather around the table in our coffee room and eat tacos from the Mexican grocery store next door to our building. The store has a tiny kitchen where they prepare authentic Mexican food and their special is tacos on Thursdays for $1.00 each. So we have adopted Thursday as our official Taco Day with a bag of tacos from Fiesta Mexicana.
With the group gathered around the table it gives me the opportunity to have everyone taste a new wine or bounce blog article ideas off them.
For some time I have wanted to write an article for the blog on all of the things you need to consider before, during and after opening a bottle of wine.
A couple of Taco Thursdays ago I posed the question to the group. After some raised eyebrows, I got some interesting statements and answers including these gems:
- If I can’t get the cork out of the bottle, I don’t deserve the wine.
- Is this the right wine for my food?
- Gee, I wish I had bought a better corkscrew.
- What glass should I use?
- Take the lid off before you pour it.
I would like to thank the Taco Thursday group for these enlightening thoughts. Actually, I had a slightly narrower focus in mind for the topic so let me take a stab at it.
Below are my thoughts on the various items you need to consider in the overall process of opening a bottle of wine. I have included information on what decisions you need to make prior to actually pulling the cork, the proper way to remove the cork and then what happens thereafter. Uncorking a bottle of wine is a lot more technical or tricky than you might think. The best way to get familiar with the process is to practice by opening a lot of bottles.
If you are selecting a bottle wine from your cellar or storage unit that is more than five or six years old, it is a good practice to stand the bottle upright (assuming that the bottle has been stored on its side) for at least 24 hours prior to opening it. This allows the sediment to settle to the bottom of the bottle. Bottles that are older than eight to 10 years may need to stand for a couple of days. If possible, let the bottle stand in the same cool place that it has been stored.
Corkscrews come in all shapes and sizes. There is the basic wing style, the lever style, the twist style, the pump style and of course the high-tech style. A person’s wine opener preference or style can often be a touchy and sensitive topic.
It has been my experience that the ladies, including Mrs. Tiedemann and Michelle Robinson (jack-of-all-trades) at Michael’s Italian Restaurant here in Elkhart, often prefer the wing style. For some, it’s a matter of strength. Pushing down on the wings is easier than pulling up on a handle especially if you are pulling a tapered cork.
My weapon of choice and perhaps the most widely used style is the classic double hinge corkscrew also called the sommelier knife, waiter’s friend or wine key. This corkscrew resembles a pocketknife and is quite easy to carry. There are a number of folding pieces to this type of corkscrew. It has a notched arm that extends from the main body or handle of the opener that hooks onto the lip of the bottle for leverage. Sometimes this arm is hinged providing two leverage points or steps. It has a small-hinged knife blade, also located in the handle, used to cut the foil capsule wrapping the neck of most wine bottles. These knives come in different shapes and sizes and often have a serrated edge. The serrated style or type is my personal preference, as I believe they stay sharper long and make cutting the foil easier. The knives have a tendency to become dull as you cut against the glass bottle all the time when you remove the foil. When they get dull it makes it a little tougher to peel the foil.
The third and most important part of this style opener is the non-stick screw or worm (the squiggly metal part that looks like a drill bit). The worm should have five turns or rounds to it. This is an important item, which I will touch on later in this post. A good, well made waiter’s friend corkscrew will cost between $10 and $200, but you can usually pick up a pretty good one at your local wine shop for $10 to $20.
The fact is that using the sommelier’s knife in the uncorking process can be fun and really cool. With practice you’ll be uncorking like a pro and the bonus is that practice requires you to drink more delicious wine.
A Word on Worms
There are a couple types of corkscrew worms. The auger type is very much like a wood screw with sharp edged threads. I see this type of worm mostly on a winged opener. I think the auger type worm has a tendency to bore into the center of the cork and hollow it out. If the cork is really tight in the bottle this can cause the worm to pull out of the cork without removing it.
Round-edged worms vary in design and are pretty much standard on waiter’s friend type corkscrews. The tip is sharp which helps it penetrate the cork easily. The round edged worm can vary in length but you want one that is at least two inches in length and has at least five turns on it. The turns should be open and have wide spacing between the turns. With the wide spacing you are less likely to damage the center of the cork and you will have a better grip when extracting the cork.
There is a second type of cork puller you might want to have handy, it is called a twin prong cork puller or the butler’s friend or an “Ah-So.” I have also heard them called screw pulls. This nifty little device can be a little tricky to use (requires some practice). It will extract a cork without damaging it and can be useful when you break a cork with your double-hinged waiter’s friend. In my case that normally happens when I am not paying attention to what I am doing and pull the cork at an angle with the corkscrew. We’ll touch on this later in this post as well. The one I have is made by Le Creuset, costs about $50 and is available through Amazon, Williams Sonoma, etc.
I will mention that some friends and some reviewers say don’t mess around buying one of these openers…saying that they are a waste of money. Their reasons are that they are too hard to use or learn to use, they cost too much and if you aren’t careful they have a tendency to push the cork in the bottle instead of pulling it out. I readily admit that it takes some practice to learn to use an Ah-So. Once you have, they make short work of a broken cork. Just as everything associated with wine, personal preference plays a big role in your decision.
When I first became involved with wine, I had all the latest equipment including a foil cutter. After a while I discovered they are pretty much useless. Unless you are a cork-dork and save capsule tops I would not mess around with them.
Should a Bottle Be Opened In Advance?
There are several factors that come into play in this decision. What type of wine is it, how old is it and does it need to be decanted? Here are my suggestions:
- Simple reds, white wines, rosé, sparkling wines and champagnes are generally opened at the last minute before serving.
- Younger wines, less than five to six years old, generally benefit from one to two hours of aeration. My preference is to always decant these wines. If that isn’t possible, then opening the wine one to two hours in advance of serving is recommended.
- Wines six to eight years old should be decanted after opening. Be sure to pour the wine through a strainer into the decanter.
- Very old wines generally require no aeration. However, pour gently due to the possibility of sediment in the bottle.
Next week, in Part 2 of this blog, we will go through all the actual steps to opening a bottle of wine. Stay tuned!
I appreciate your support of our wine blog and encourage you to share it with family and friends. If you care to share your comments on this blog posting or other topics, please do so in the comments section below.
Until next week,