Food Dude Article #9 (Wine Paraphernalia)
By Ken Collura
I’ve never cared for the term “Wine Collector.” To my way of thinking, a collection is something that has been passionately assembled, shined up and cataloged, then put out on display. I’m not so sure this expression should apply to wine, per se. Bottles of wine should never be put on pedestals like Giacometti sculptures or exhibited behind locked glass, similar to a Picasso. After all, it’s just vino, made from grapes.
Like every other type of collectible, wine has its paraphernalia. Let’s address a few of the main participants. I’ll list them as Imperative, Pretty Important or Basically Useless:
It used to be you couldn’t open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew. But the screwcap has changed all that. I’m of the opinion that fully three-fourths of the world’s wine should be bottled under screwcap. Why? At least three-fourths (if not more) of the wine produced in the world is meant for immediate consumption. Should it matter if these wines have a cork or not? Very few things in this business can be more perturbing than opening a fresh young bottle and finding it completely corked and undrinkable.
Don’t get the wrong impression, because I seriously don’t want to see Penfolds Grange, Chateau Margaux or Vega Sicilia bottled under screw cap. These are classics, meant to age for decades, and should be sealed with high-quality corks. But for all young-drinking whites and roses, Beaujolais or $10 shiraz from Australia, let’s do it.
Still, having a corkscrew is Imperative. I once had a $150 Laguiole beauty. It had a bone handle and looked really sleek. But it was kind of unwieldy in my hand and I kept cutting myself with it. Looking cool doesn’t matter so much when your hand is bleeding on the customer’s jacket, so I changed equipment and now firmly believe in using simple, rubber-handled waiter’s corkscrews.
Once opened, each wine has a very short window in which to sing its song. The older reds have waited quite a while to get their few minutes on stage. Why not give them a chance to sing loud? I believe in decanting reds that have ten or so years behind them, and find they often blossom like flowers after twenty minutes out of the cellar. Pretty Important.
Conversely, decanting a very young and/or inexpensive wine is generally moot. If you plan to decant a bottle of 2005 chardonnay at home for your guests, it should be regarded as a visually pleasant, yet Basically Useless endeavor.
Ultra-quality crystal stemware for the home falls under the Pretty Important, but not Imperative section. Using the right shape of glass does play a part in how your wine will taste. Obviously, you don’t want to go around the table asking your friends to cup their hands as you pour, but whether you need to pay $25 per stem is another matter. My grandfather drank his wine out of water tumblers (not recommended).
Some of today’s advertisements for stemware are ridiculous. Each and every grape variety does not need to have its own shape. Look for a good size bell, a thin lip and a more or less tulip-like shape, which works just fine for the grand majority of wines. If you simply must have those fragile, elite glasses, that’s fine. Just expect to break a few each week.
If you plan to purchase bottles with noteworthy aging curves, you better think about cold storage. Simply put, wines won’t live long unless kept in cool, dark spaces. Whether you own the storage unit yourself (gauge your needs carefully) or rent one, this section can be regarded as Imperative for the health of your wine. But if you’re buying a few $8 bottles a week that you drink right away, who cares?
A Few Other Areas
Wine Charms: These are the little do-dads that go around the bottom of your stemware at parties. They indicate which wine is Suzie’s and which is Sam’s. They remind me of vinous Monopoly trinkets (I always wanted the Shoe or the Thimble). Kind of neat, but Basically Useless.
Media Tasting Notes: Pretty Important. There are many choices here, and each reviewer has his or her own distinctive tastes. My call is try a few recommendations from one publication to see if you agree with the assessments. If not, try another. Take everything with a grain of salt. Once you’re comfortable with your own likes and dislikes, read every publication you can, just to see how varied and stupefying their comments can be.
A syndicated columnist for over five years and writer for the trade magazines Cheers (on the Editorial Advisory Board) and Sante on a regular basis, Ken Collura has been active in the national wine scene for many years. Prior to moving to Portland, he was head sommelier at the restaurant with the world’s largest wine list, Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, which carried over a half million bottles in stock. He is currently sommelier at Andina, the Peruvian restaurant in Portland