Updated: Apr 11
Part 2: Please note: this article will be released in several sections. Each part will be a new FOR THE VIN blog post, and all the sections will be combined in their entirety as a booklet. It will be available to read online or download in Wine-A-Reads bookshop at wineville.net after all sections have been released.
Chapter 3: Selection and Retrieving
If you sell wine in any capacity, be it a wine shop, a restaurant, a bar, a winery, or as a sales rep, you should know the product you are peddling. If you work in a wine bar that has thousands of labels and you are not the sommelier or wine director, the prospect of familiarizing yourself with each and every bottle is improbable if not impossible. What you can do, however, is learn about the regions and varietals, and even research the growers and wineries and information on vintages within regions. You may not know the exact wine, but you can then make an educated guess at what each bottle contains. Once you are knowledgeable enough to discuss any wine on your product list or menu, then you can really begin up-selling, recommending, food-pairing, and guest-educating. As with any other aspect of service, however, be sure to read the guest and be careful not to over-step, pontificate to, nor degrade their wine knowledge. Discussing wine with confidence and authority can raise the perceived level of service, but treating the punter in a diminutive manner will create an uncomfortable exchange that can quickly go awry. So, discuss wine options with the guest, being helpful and pointing out logical choices, then let them make the final decision. As with all good service, repeat back the name of the wine and the vintage, to be sure you get the correct bottle. Many bottles have very similar names, and different vintages can have completely distinct characteristics and be priced accordingly. Bring the bottle to the table, carrying it without turning, shaking, or covering the label. Shaking up the contents within, particularly of an aged red wine, is tantamount to wine heresy. The sediment that had been settling in the bottom will be swirled back into the wine and reverse the mellowing effect of the maturation. Sediment is, by nature, bitter. It can also be sandy, chewy, or gritty. That’s why you should always carry the bottle with care, give recently arrived wines time to settle, as well as decant most red wines. Once you have brought the wine to the table, present it label forward to the guest who made the decision. Point out the name and vintage to ensure you have the right wine, and that they accept it. Now, you can open the bottle.
Chapter 4: Foil & Wax
As illustrated in Fig. 1-1, each bottle will have a cap. This could be of the screw-top variety, sometimes called a Stelvin closure, or a wax cap, or a foil wrap. Obviously, this will determine how you approach opening the bottle.
The screw-cap is becoming a much more accepted method of bottle closure and indeed has many advantages over the traditional cork, in its ability to keep wine from spoiling as well as ease of opening with no equipment necessary. It does lack in the finesse and presentation side of the ritual. It also maintains some stigma of a lesser quality or cheaper wine, though this is fading as it gains wider acceptance by established wineries. There is also an effect on how the wine matures in bottle when closed with a Stelvin versus a cork. Real cork, harvested from a cork tree, is porous. This allows a limited micro-oxygenation to occur while the wine ages, which may not occur with a screw-top or a plastic ‘cork’.
The most common cap for quality wines is the foil wrap. These enclose and protect the top of the cork from air and help to keep the cork from drying out as the wine matures. Cleanly cutting away the foil is a job that can be accomplished looking suave and confident, or clumsy, messy, and unsure. Having a sharp knife on your opener can make all the difference to how the foil cuts
away or tears. I prefer a serrated knife, but a straight edge is fine as long as it is sharp
enough. Serrated blades require less sharpening, but all blades can be honed once in a while to maintain their edge.
Use the underside lip of the bottle as a guide to get a clean straight cut. The motion should be a two-part, quick and easy process, with both the front and back being sliced in the same direction (Left to right if you are right-handed). The bottle should not be turned in the process.
(See Fig. 4-1)
Wax caps are less common, but have a certain visual appeal and add a perception of care that leads one to assume an overall high quality. This may not actually be the case, but perception is half the battle. There are many brands and bottles that press a small round disk of wax onto the top, just covering the opening. These can be popped off with the knife fairly easily, or pierced with the screw/worm, but some producers give the top of the bottle a deep dunk into wax, wrapping the top of the bottle in a thick shell. Attempting to hack the wax away to expose the cork beneath creates a mess and leads to a horrid-looking top when the bottle is finally opened. To avoid any of this fuss, simply ignore the wax and plunge the screw straight through it and into the cork. The wax will break fairly cleanly when the cork is pulled out. A light scoring with the knife around the top of the bottle prior to plunging the worm will often result in the wax breaking exactly along the scoreline. This can be achieved with the same motion as with the foil cutting, but close to the top of the bottle, not under the lip. (See Fig. 4-2)