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helmut s.

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..for your enjoyment from helmut's diaries...

 "Uncorking a Wine bottle"

Now do not laugh but lead-foil was placed over the bottle top in the first place only to keep their rodents' away from eating the cork and getting drunk. Cellar masters covered their wine-bottle-tops with the ill tasting poisonous lead for no other reasons.

UNCORKING A WINE BOTTLE
    I cut the lead-foil on the older bottles in the middle of the bottleneck's drip ring. Lead used to be what the wine-makers put onto their bottles to protect the corks from the mice and rats in their cellars. Yes! This was the only reason that lead-foil was placed over the bottle top in the first place.

    Knowing, the rodents' dislike for lead, vintners covered their wine-bottle-tops with the ill tasting poisonous lead. It worked for centuries quite well, until recently when voices appeared, who reminded the consumers of the poison in lead. At such time the sales for lead crystal dropped and wine-makers started to use alternate sleeves for their wine bottle's necks. Many wine-companies in the early nineteen-eighties replaced the lead-foil with  decorative plastic or aluminum foil sleeves instead. These newer aluminum sleeves are not as soft as the lead used to be. It is quite common for waiters to cut their fingers on the 1983-1995 bottleneck aluminum foil.  To my dislike some wine-companies are still using aluminum foil today.

    Lately, since their 1993 wine releases, some leading wine-makers including Mondavi and Kendall Jackson have changed back to what the Romans used, to wax. Their bottles are corked but sealed with wax to protect the porous corks. Having to open these newest types of bottles is made easy. One can safely insert the corkscrew through the wax into the middle of the cork. It is not necessary to scrape the wax of. However, I think to lift the wax with the tip of even the dullest waiter's knife looks more professional than drilling through the hard wax. At least that's what I do, before screwing the opener's worm into the cork. I like these, the new sleeveless bottles much better than the old type. My reasoning is,  these allow me to take a good look at the length and quality of the inserted cork.

    To open a wine bottle is a simple procedure. However, much good wine has been spilled and spoiled by carelessly attempting to open wine bottles.  If there is foil around the bottle neck and I do not know the length of the cork used, I remove the foil. Once I know the length of the cork I insert my Italian made five turn full size waiter's corkscrew, which I call a waiter's knife, into the middle of the cork. I slowly insert the point and screw the worm into the cork. I go the full length of the cork without drilling through it. For the standard waiter's knife, which I use, it's three turns for small corks and four turns for medium corks.

    For the long corks, most California and many French wines, I use all five turns of my much trusted corkscrew. Young wines don't need too much care. Their corks are easy pulled, older wines are a different story. Here a slow and careful removal of the cork is recommended. All wine bottles, with the exception of wines in a basket to be decanted, are opened without the bottle ever touching the customers' table. I do not set the wine bottle onto a  service area or the guest's  table while removing the cork unless it's a bigger than regular bottle and therefor too heavy to hold.

    Opening regular size bottles of wine I hold the bottle with my left hand, while I ease the cork out using the corkscrew's lever with my right hand. Remember, much depends on having the right tool for the job.

    Here a word about corkscrews: I have seen beautiful useless corkscrews and I have seen museums pieces which costed a fortune and couldn't grab a soft cork. I have seen people penny pinching and buying cheap short corkscrews too. My experience is that corkscrews grab only as much cork as they have a worm to screw in. Subsequently all corkscrews extract as much of the cork as held by the worm.

    I have seen people using cork-extraction-devices where they have to hold the bottle between their legs, and others where great strength is needed to pop the cork out of the bottle. Often wine is spilled at the same time. There are also some modern gadgets like the ones which use compressed air cartridges. They are easy to use, a great invention. But what are you going to do if you have to open forty bottles and run out of air, at bottle number twenty.
    I myself prefer to use the kind most waiters worldwide use, it is an inexpensive five turn large open worm corkscrew with a little dull knife and a lever for easy smooth opening, made in Italy.

    Once the cork is extracted, I carefully remove it from my corkscrew and present the cork to the guest for inspection before I pour him a taste of his wine.  It is true that anybody can open a wine bottle, however the selecting and handling of the bottle can make a big difference to the waiter's tip and the guest's enjoyment. Not to mention the time and effort which are needed to remove cork fragments from a bottle and/or to decant and filter a muddy looking expensive red wine which was mishandled by the server.

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08/25/13