Wine Paraphernalia – Corkscrews, Decanters, Glassware, Etc.

Food Dude Article #9 (Wine Paraphernalia)
By Ken Collura

CorkscrewI’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.

Storage Spaces
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

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. Erin says

    Interesting — I always thought that one of the reasons wineries went with screw caps was to avoid corkage? That the wine lasted long and aged better this way? Help me out here…Thanks!

  2. Ellie says

    Erin –

    Although several comparative tastings have been done with wine lots bottled to both natural cork and Stelvin (screwcap,) the industry jury is still out regarding the suitability of screwcaps for long term aging of wines. Some in the industry are convinced that the wine does not “evolve” as well in screwcap as it does in natural cork. Others feel that the wines evolve equally well in both. For my money, in ten or twenty years I’d rather have open a smashing bottle of old Bugundy bottled with an alternative closure than a natural cork. With that screwcap comes the confidence that the wine will not suffer from cork taint. Nothing sucks worse than opening a much anticipated bottle on a special occassion only to find that it’s unfit to drink.

    I think a larger issue that causes many high-end producers to avoid screwcaps is consumer perception. Many people who purchase a $100 plus bottle of wine don’t like seeing a screwcap. For many, there’s something romantic about a cork – the look, the feel, the length (this is getting kind of pornographic here) and the ritual or removing that cork. The industry is working long and hard (did it again!) to educate consumers and win them over to alternative closures.

    Luckily there is a third closure option for bottled wine as well – vinolok – in which the bottle is closed using a glass stopper fitted with a superfine gasket. Several Austrian and German producers are using vinolock with great success, and a few Oregon producers have begun to use the technology as well (Laurent Monthelieu’s “Kudos” label is one.) And hell, since we’re on the subject of wine closures, have any of you seen the Cameron boxed wine? It’s great to see someone using the much-maligned but technically sound wine-in-a-box technology. Heck, you can get great boxed wines in Europe – why not here?

  3. Ken Collura says

    Thanks Ellie for posting more pertinent info on alternative enclosures. I believe Bag-in-the-Box will catch on soon. It’s nearly the perfect way to store wine. BTW, you can find Jean-Marc Brocard declassified Chablis in a 3-liter box in our market. $30-something at retail. It can be kept in the fridge for weeks on end. Still finding it difficult getting used to the Vinolok glass stopper, though.

  4. Chambolle says

    We had good success pouring Edmund Burle’s bag-in-a-box red by the glass. There were a lot of jokes made, naturally, but nobody scoffed at the idea. The wine was sound and people were happy.

  5. Food Dude says

    Over the years, I’ve tried all manner of corkscrews. Eventually I settled for the standard waiters screwpull (with a Teflon screw). I’ve never found anything better, unless you are working in a wine tasting room and uncorking a a huge amount of bottles every day.

    I did time in a tasting room for a couple of weekends to help out a friend. I finally had to walk when the 100th person pulled up in their Winnebago and asked for “a cup of that cab-ber-net sa-vig-non”.

  6. singingpig says

    If the bag-in-box is good enough for Cameron then it is good enough for me. My only problem with bag-in-box is the memories it evokes of Bob Packwood and my former in-laws swilling white Zin from a box.


  7. Bob G. says

    I recently had my first experience with a screw top, Adelsheim Pino Gris. I think it’s a great idea, no wasted time screwing around with a corkscrew.
    Also have had decent results with bag in a box wine.I had a blind tasting with several Cabernets, starting with my brothers very high end Cab. out of St Helena, CA., and ending with” Three Buck Chuck” Frankly the box did quite well. I might add that the tasters were just ordinary wine drinkers, not professional tasters.

  8. grapedog says

    My Pulltap’s corkscrew is my best friend during a dinner party and has opened many wonderful bottles of wine. Unfortunately, I left it in a bag recently and it was discovered during a scan by the TSA hospitality team at the San Jose airport. It was obviously “illegal” to bring on board at the time so rather than donate the Pulltap to the TSA bone pile, I left security and shipped it back to my house via Fed Ex.

    I usually open my wines for dinners in advance of putting them on the table, so the closure is irrelevant since my dinner guests see the open bottle and the wine, not the cork/cap/plug.

    The person who invents a Screwpull-like device for removing Stelvin closures will make a ton on money on people who want to bring the elegance back to opening bottles of wine.

  9. Norm says

    I am all for getting maximum value for my wine dollar and I have no problem with the box wine from Vino wine shop in Sellwood.
    Most wine shops are just as happy steering you towards a great $8 dollar bottle as they are a $50 bottle.
    As for the urban myth about the $2-3 buck chuck beating an upper end Napa Cabernet, it is just that a myth.
    I belong to several wine groups and we do formal and informal tastings every month. I have for the past 3 years thrown a “ringer” into every blind tasting we have and I have yet to see a “cheap” wine not be identified as such.
    Trust me when I say if we blind taste a Mondavi Reserve, Beringer Reserve, Staglin, Colgin and Joseph Phelps Insignia and finally a $2-3 buck Chuck you will spit out the $2-3 chuck. Of course if you are looking to make Sangria for your deck party, you can also buy about three cases of $3 buck chuck for the price of a single bottle of Insignia too.
    This is akin to an intramural basketball player who scores 30 pts in his beer league thinking that “Hey, Lebron James has got nothing on me”. You get what you pay for, and if wine were literature then the Insignia is Heminway and the $3 buck Chuck is a fortune cookie

  10. Sir Loins says

    Hey youse folks (incl. Ken Collura) who have discovered good wines in a box,

    Let’s see more recommendations for good wines in a box, and also where to get them!

  11. cuisinebonnefemme says

    I second that request.

    Specifically looking for a good pinot gris and/or sauvignon blanc.

    Camping trip coming up soon….it would be helpful.


  12. JimmyLikesRye says

    Rather than trying to divine the meaning the overly flowery prose of a wine critic, I find it better to simply do a lot of tasting and buy what I like. Obviously, be guided by those who know more, but ultimately it makes sense to buy what you personally like.

    And do I care if Parker says “this wine is a 92″ if I know I don’t like that variety (I’m not overly fond of Chardonnay, for example)?

    Get thee to a winery, tasting room, or wine shop on tasting day (Friday, usually). Portlanders are lucky: any weekend a short drive out towards Carlton and there are dozens of open wineries to choose from.

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