Thursday, 25 April 2013

Tales Of The Old Waiters' Friend

File:Korkenzieher 01 KMJ.jpg
The corkscrew at its simplest
Ah, the waiters' friend. Once the most important piece of kit that any waiter, barman and especially sommelier could have in his pocket. If you're not sure what I mean I'm guessing you have not worked in hospitality. At home you might call it a corkscrew.

Whatever you call it,  for almost 400 years the corkscrew was the way to remove your corks from your wine bottles.

Karl Wienke's original
patented waiters' friend
Actually the waiters' friend is a specific type of corkscrew, designed with a folding body mechanism similar to a pocket knife. It was conceived by German Karl Wienke in 1882 and patented in Germany, England and America.

There have been many embelishments to the original but the basic shape remains the same. And to this day it is the best way of removing any cork from a bottle. Why anyone would want to spend £140 (US$215) on a Le Creuset Wine Accessories LM-G10 Geo Lever Corkscrew just to do exactly the same job I have no idea.

The idea of opening a bottle of wine as a spotty, wet behind the ears youth of 18 when I started in the trade was utterly terrifying. And I find that that continues today with the 18 year olds I employ. Second only to the fear of opening a bottle of Champagne but we will leave that to another day.

10 years old and still works perfectly.
My home waiters' friend from Vinopolis in London
with 'wineman' my lego mascot
Having worked in the trade over 20 years I have used and lost many a waiters friend and even today I cannot put my hand on my current one. It is probably in my draw at work. But the one I have at home was purchased from Vinopolis, the wine museum in London, over 10 years ago and has done sterling service and shows no sign of wear. But how long I will actually continue to need it for is anyones guess.

The problem with cork is that it's a natural product and therefore is prone to shrinkage, allowing oxidation of the wine and is also the main cause of cork taint. The chemistry here is quite complex so I will leave that to wikipedia but the problem of cork taint has been taxing winemakers for over 60 years. The percentage of wine affected depends on which latest study you read. It is generally agreed to be around 6-8% of bottles although other studies have it as less. A major problem no matter who you believe.

The solution to this has been the screwcap or Stelvin Closure. I love that term. If I ever get a band together I think that would be its name. And now topping the bill The Stelvin Closure. Sorry, day dreaming there for a moment. It was developed in the 1960s by French company La Bouchage Mechanique and first used commercially in Switzerland in 1972, the year of my birth. Australian winemakers soon adopted them but the general public were not so keen and even 30 years later some wine lovers dismiss wine with screwcaps as cheap. But this is a dying breed.

In recent times most, even French, winemakers have embraced the screwcap.For example in 2001 1% of New Zealand wines were in screwcap but by 2004 that was 70%. And for me, besides France, New Zealand makes the best wine in the world. Stelvin isn't completely faultless though, as it is estimated that 1 in 50,000 bottles can be affected by reduction which is the opposite of oxidation. So you still need to do a taste test at the table with your guests in a restaurant setting.

So is the end nigh for natural cork. Well not for a good while yet. Almost 69% of the world wine is still in cork although this is reducing rapidly. Also the top producers of some of the great French wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy are yet to be convinced of the ageing potential of a screwcap and are still to change. But I suspect this is only a matter of time.

So how to enjoy the corkscrew or waiters' friend whilst it is still around. Perhaps a visit to the The Corkscrew Inn in Vancouver, Canada which celebrates every facet of the humble cork extractor. Or if that's too difficult at least visit the Virtual Corkscrew Museum. Honestly it's fun!

Next time: My local vineyard. Yes, in Wolverhampton!

Enjoy your wine. Cheers!

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Tuesday, 16 April 2013

My First Tasting Event

If you follow me on twitter or have read the previous blog you may know I have now started a new company offering bespoke, personal wine tastings in private homes. I realise from the outset this will be a major challenge and probably cause me a lot of frustration but no matter I am determined this is a viable business idea which I intend to make successful.

My wife Louise suggested I do a tasting event as a test run where I covered the cost of the event and invited guests to our house. We invited neighbours, who we know to say hello to, but not much more than that; the idea being that they would give me honest feedback. Also the advantage of neighbours is that they did not have to drive home afterwards. Three couples accepted our invitation and I also invited my mother and father in law who are big wine lovers. So with myself and Louise there would be 10 of us. Ideal.

The programme of wines
ISO tasting glasses were hired, a wine tasting program prepared and the wines purchased.
tasting glasses and wine tasting notes set up

At 7.30pm, once all my guests had arrived, I began the evening by thanking them all for coming and by telling them all they were guineas pigs tonight. I was quite nervous, obviously the onus was on me to keep things moving along with information and guidance but I was desperate not to come across as a wine bore. It's a fine balance that my wife and parents-in-law said afterwards I managed well. Judging the knowledge and interest of my audience is going to be a key skill if I am to make my business a success.

The first wine was a Picpoul from Felines Jourdan, purchased from Waitrose. Picpoul is one of those wines drunk heavily by the locals of Languedoc where it is produced but is not much seen in Britain. I started with it because it makes an excellent aperitif wine being crisp and dry. It was actually much darker in colour and heavier on the palate than I expected but it made a good start as everyone liked it.

Never mind the wine admire the label
The second wine was an Organic Viognier from South Australia produced by Yalumba, also from Waitrose. As you will no doubt know Viognier is one of my favourite grape varieties and this one did not disappoint. Rich and tropical with the usual palate of apricots. My audience were less keen, although they all agreed it was the nicest designed label of the evening.

Miolo Chardonnay - Disappointing
Third up was a Brazilian Chardonnay from Miolo that I have had for a number of months. I blogged about Brazilian wine previously and had high hopes but unfortunately the wine was disappointing. Rather thin, with dull flavours and little body everyone was quite happy to move rapidly on to the next wine.

Marlborough Sauv - Yummy!

The final white wine of the evening was a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc purchased from Tanners. Pretty much all Marlborough Sauv is great despite the recent glut of it to take advantage of the demand but I can say with all honesty that Tanners only sell good and mostly great wines and this was no exception. The usual nettle and gooseberry flavours were present and for most of my guests this was their favourite of the white wines.

After we completed the four white wines I was anxiously looking at my watch worrying about the time. I thought 90 minutes for the event and we were less than 45 minutes in but I need not have worried. After a little break where we enjoyed some of the food we had provided we started on the four red wines and the time flowed along nicely.

First up was a Cono Sur Pinot Noir from Sainsbury's. I figured a lighter red was the best way to start and I always think Pinot Noir is the first wine to try if you are new to red wines. I have to say I love Chilean wines, there hardly seems to be a bad one made and this was great too. Simple yes, but delicious all the same.

Next was another Chilean wine, a Gran Reserva Merlot from Luis Felipe Edwards. The use of Reserva, Gran Reserva and the like by Chilean winemakers is a bit arbitary as they have no legal standing but it does suggest better quality and this was superb. Merlot is probably my favourite red grape as it makes such easy to drink wine and this was definitely my favourite wine of the night.

Argentinian Malbec - Bring me that steak
Batting at number three was a Malbec from Argentina. It was a full on 14% and tasted it. I warned all the guests that it was probably a food wine beforehand and so it proved. Full of dark plum fruits with overtones of dark chocolate and mocha it would be great with a sirloin steak and chips!

The final wine of the night was really the centrepiece of the evening. It was by far the most expensive wine of the event and I hoped it would really stand out. A famous name from a famous appellation. Purchased from Tanners the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Télégramme, H Brunier et Fils is a classic only outranked by its bigger brother the Vieux Télégraphe. My guests immediately knew it was the most expensive wine of the night and all but one thought it the best and that says it all. Delicious plummy fruit with spice, a touch of leather and soft, ripe tannins.

The conversation flowed long after the last wine was poured and my guests enjoyed helping themselves to more of the wines they liked the most.

My final duty was to award a nice Hugh Johnson Wine Journal prize to Anita who I thought made the most interesting contributions to the evening. I was warmly thanked by all in attendance and those thanks have continued for a couple of days now. All in all a very successful event.

So now its over to you. Why not let me come to you and organise a wine tasting for you and your friends and family. Please do take a look at my website. and I hope you will get in touch. My packages start at £15 per person with 10 being the minimum charge (although it would work with any number from 6 up). I am based near Wolverhampton and will travel anywhere in the wider Midlands area. I look forward to hearing from you.

Next time: Tales of the old waiters friend, oh and the Stelvin Closure!

Enjoy you wine. Cheers!

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Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Glory of Wine Tastings and Wine Serving Temperatures

Reading the above title you might be thinking 1. Boring, I'm not interested in his new business or 2. These are two different topics that are not interlinked. Well actually they are linked and I will eventually explain why. So I hope you will read on.

About five weeks ago I had an epiphany of sorts and decided my wine knowledge needed to be put to better use. Writing these blogs is all very well but it's not getting me anywhere closer to retirement. A combination of a number of factors led me to decide that I would start my own business offering private wine tastings in the home as a sideline to my full time job.

And for the last five weeks I have been running around trying to make that happen. Well, I say running around, of course these days most new business start ups are centered around a computer screen and that is where I mostly been when not at work. First a business name, then a business plan, then a logo and some artwork and finally a website. Plus the starting of a new twitter page gloryofwine.

Until I started this I did not realise how difficult constructing a website is and spent two whole days on it. It also made be appreciate how great the Blogger service from Google is as it is so simple to use. But enough about the technicalities you're here to read about wine.

One of the difficulties of taking wine, particularly white wine, to anyones house is controlling the temperature. There is always a worry that it will be too warm to drink unless you buy one of those wine jackets who Vacu Vin seem to have the leading product line in. And obviously this will need to be a consideration for myself once I start taking booked events. But the truth is most people, and I passionately believe in this, serve white wine too cold and red wine too warm.

Wine Temperature Serving Guide
Take a look at the diagram above, which comes from the excellent Bibendum website. Most domestic refrigerators are set to 5˚C as recommended by the Food Standards Agency. And I would bet that most people take their white wine from the fridge and serve it immediately. It's too cold. It will need a little time to warm up to be perfect to drink. Only once the wine is a little warmer, as high as 11˚C for some whites such as classic white Burgundy, will you be able to appreciate the nuances of the wine.

A similar rule applies to red wine. Nearly all homes have their thermostat in their lounge or dining rooms set to 20˚C for comfort, possibly higher. As can be seen above all red wines should be served below that. My father-in-law, has a great saying on this subject. The French serve their red wines "chambre" which we have translated as meaning room temperature which is only partly true. Chambre, of course, means bedroom in French, which traditionally would have been a little cooler.

So just remember to take that fine New Zealand Sauvignon out the fridge 20 minutes before you wish to drink it and leave the Chianti in a slightly cooler room until you need it.

Next time: My very first tasting event of my new business, oh and wine journals.

Enjoy your wine. Until next time. Cheers!


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Glory of Wine Tastings website