Part 4: 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.
Restaurant wine service provides the opportunity for a server or somm to make a connection with the guests and put on a bit of a show. Feeling very comfortable removing crumbly old corks or thick wax seals can put your guests at ease, that they are being well taken care of. Oppositely, if you fumble with uncorking, break a cork, or generally look clumsy and unsure, the customer will pick up on the lack of confidence and view the experience as less professional and an overall lower grade of service. As in all service, as well as many other facets of work and general life, being prepared is paramount to success. Know your product. That is of course the contents of the bottle, as aforementioned, but also the quirks and characteristics of the closure. Some corks are longer than others, so turning the screw an extra half-turn could be the difference between leaving the bottom quarter of a broken cork in the bottle, and a smooth remove. If you are faced with opening a twenty-year-old Bordeaux, you may want to use the wine-butler style of opener (See Fig. 5-2). Having the right tool for the job is a part of that preparedness. If your wine crank has a loose knife, a dull blade or a bent worm, you could fail at presenting yourself as a capable and confident server and lose precious style points and ultimately tips. Service is a show. Do not clown, but using a sense of humor can create a relaxing atmosphere and lower the guard of difficult or skeptical guests. During a bottle opening, you are often the center of attention, so do not waste this opportunity to make a great impression.
Chapter 7: Analyze & Accept
Before any pouring into glasses occurs, the cork should be presented to the guest who ordered the wine, for inspection. It should be placed in front of his or her wine glass, with the print facing them. The practice of opening the bottle in view of the guest, and presenting them the cork, is to prove that the contents in the bottle are indeed the same as indicated on the label and the menu. The cork will usually have a print or logo on it, to identify it as the original closure from the winery. If the bottle is sealed with a screw-top, plastic cork, or any ‘other than cork’ stopper it should still be opened in front of the guest. The guest may want to examine the cork. It is often assumed that the cork presentation is for the purpose of identifying cork-taint in the wine, and so many people will smell the cork. The cork may give clues to wine faults, but is actually a very poor method of identifying them, so is neither necessary nor beneficial. A very dry cork is an indicator of possible taint, but it is not definitive until the sample pour. The sample pour is another of those practices which most people are aware of, but may not really understand. The sample is presented to the ordering guest, to allow them the opportunity to decline it in the case of cork-taint. It should not be confused with a wine tasting. It is not a moment for them to display their uncanny nose for distinguishing dried plum aromas from fresh ones, or decide whether they like syrah better than cab. It is only to seek wine faults, particularly cork-taint, and accept or decline the bottle based on this one factor. The sample pour, therefore, is only relevant to bottles that have a real cork. If the bottle had any other type of closure, it can not have cork-taint. The guest who ordered the wine may want to sample the wine anyway, so a cursory inquiry should be made to establish whether to begin guest pouring or to pour the sample. This is merely a perfunctory courtesy and serves no purpose other than providing the guest with the experience they expect.
When pouring from decanter or bottle into the wine glass, avoid if possible, picking up the glass. The glass should be in its set and original position, though guests will sometimes move them. If a sample pour is required or requested, it is poured for the ordering guest. Pouring the sample, as with all wine service, should be done with your right hand around/over the right shoulder of the guest. The handling of the bottle can be achieved by one of three acceptable methods. (See Fig. 7-1)
The sample pour should be between one and two ounces of wine; just enough to get a good nosing. The guest will often taste this sample before accepting the bottle, but the smell will tell any experienced enthusiast if the bottle is corked or not. Cork-taint is a bottle-specific fault, so if it is detected, the guest may choose to try another bottle of the same wine or select a new bottle from the list. Save the corked wine in the bottle and re-stopper it, as it can be returned to the supplier for a refund.
Once the wine has been accepted, guest pouring can commence.