Who dat?

Yeah Saints! Way to kick some lil’-pony behind!

But that has nothing to do with food, now does it? Well, actually, I’m not sure I’m gonna get into food at all tonight. Aside from admitting that I got my dinner from Taco Bell, yipe!

The Bell is my most common slip up for fast food, since the only other options here in  Truckee are Mickey D’s (just tooo evil) and KFC (if they aren’t allowed to call it chicken anymore, then what is it?). Meanwhile The Bell is very conveniently located down by Donner Lake, it has a drive-thru, and they accept both plastic and spare change without any fuss.  So I caved, and now my guts are a bit peeved with me.

They like to think (my guts, that is) that they have evolved past all that fast-fix-fried-flour, and mebe they have. But for as much as guts may be able to think for themselves (the abdominal area is actually regarded, by the medical community as the second brain, due to the presence of a network of over 100 billion neurons, in the – eh, bowel. Weird but true…) it is the main brain, betwixt mine ears, that gets to drive the car.

So tonight, we will review the next-most important thing to food – wine!

& the bit of equipment that we will be looking at, is the one hand tool that I currently  use at home for aid in consumption of nutrients, aside from the can opener. I call it a wine key, which is essentially a slang term for – the sommelier knife – which in turn is just a crazy word for corkscrew. These days the “corkscrew” or wine opener, can range from its original version, a metal twisty-dealy lodged in the middle of a wooden handle, to the archaic twin prong cork puller, which is not screwy at all, but still kind of a pain in the ass…to the new-fangled “rabbit” corkscrew, or even a tabletop corkscrew tool that looks to be about two feet tall…

In between there are the wing corkscrew, and my favorite, the sommelier, more commonly known as the waiter’s corkscrew. The one I have now is in the French style, with gracefully curved lines, and a sturdy inlay of rosewood for a pleasant appearance and feel in the hand. The reason I care so much about this little gadget is that to me, it represents the highest level of integrity out of all the afore mentioned models, and it also doubles as a pocket knife in a pinch.

My wine key allows me to approach the cork from a subtle angle, so that the true center of the cork can be roughly triangulated, and from there, the cork can be removed with confidence and control, avoiding that embarrassing loud “pop!” which should only be consciously accentuated when opening sparkling wines.

So – let’s do a quick walk through of opening a bottle, from the top. Certianly I am not an expert on anything in the wine world, but I have opened hundreds of bottles in my day, so I ain’t ignant either…

Our subject for the evening is a bottle of Lucky Star Pinot Noir, 2008. The appellation is listed simply as “California” which might sound like something of a cop-out, but that is actually what I use in reference to myself when people ask me where I’m from.

“Where are you from, dear?”


Where in California?!?”

“Mmmm, most of it…”

One guy actually yelled at me, saying I was not from Cali, & that he used to live in Santa Barbara, so he ought to know! He was convinced that I was from Australia, because of my “accent”, and honestly I haven’t the time to talk about what a silly, ironical twist all of that is, in retrospect –  so let’s just get back to the wine…

This label won the gold medal from the San Fransisco Chronicle wine competition, & in order to win this award, all participating judges must agree that the juice is worthy. Furthermore, this wine is the most inexpensive wine, to receive such an accolade, pretty cool, no?

Alright then, so before we confront the cork, there is the foil to be dealt with. I have two approaches for this matter, and to discern which is more appropriate, simply hold the bottle with both hands – one hand at the bottom and one hand over the foil at the top of the neck. As I am a lefty, I never advise which hand ought to be where, just whatever is most comfy for you. With the hand at the bottom, twist the bottle, while the top hand holds the foil over the cork only. What we are looking for here is a measurement of the play between foil and glass. There are different varieties of foil that are used, as well as adhesives and other methods of sealing the foil top to the actual bottle. If the foil twists easily or loosely around, then you will not need a knife to remove the covering, you can simply twist and pull the piece off in one go. If the foil does not budge at all, or if it does, but without much play or enthusiasm, then you might be better off using the knife.

In the case of the Lucky Star Pinot, the foil does twist, but with a fair amount of friction, and though it seems that thought I could fight the piece off in under 30 seconds or so, I might as well just bust out the blade…

My Wine Key

At the top of the bottle there is a lip where they made the glass a bit thicker for about two centimeters down the length of the neck. You can rest the edge of the blade on the top ridge of this lip, so that once you have cut around the circumference of the neck, the little circular hat of foil will come off with an edge that is evenly a millimeter or two deep. So you rest the blade’s edge on the lip, and then hold the knife with one hand, the bottle neck with the other, and use both thumbs to apply pressure to the blunt  backside of the knife. Twist the bottle, with the hand holding the neck, in segments, until you have gone all the way around. This results in a sort of sawing action between the blade and the foil, so you might do well to go round twice before you try to remove the “hat” of circular foil.

On this bottle, at the end of the second go ’round, the top flopped off of it’s own accord, however often times a bit more manipulation is required. Now we are left with a sleeve of foil around the neck of the bottle. Please, do not underestimate this innocuous looking scrap of metal! I have sliced the holy living bejeezus out of my hand and fingers, on this sort of foil, more than once. This is another reason why, if I can easily yank the whole bit of foil off at the first, I will not hesitate to do so. The only reason one might not want to, is for the sake of appearances, there is something more refined and restrained looking about a bottle of wine with it’s colored bit of foil still collaring the neck.  However, you do still run the risk of  mussing up the collar, if your cut around the top is less than perfectly clean.

At this point the hat is off, we are taking caution of any loose edges of foil and we are now confronting the cork. It can be quite distressing to screw up a cork, especially with a good bottle of wine, double especially if you are serving said wine to one or more other person(s). So the goal here is to find the center most point of the cork, and then to penetrate it fully, pardon my vulgarity.

The two main ways that a cork is ruined is by screwing down the side of the cork, or by not getting the screw all the way through, so that only the top fraction is removed. Both of these blunders can result in flecks (or even chunks!)  of cork escaping into the wine, and they will then need to be strained out, or drank. & the trouble with straining a wine is that you might end up over-aerating the wine, or disrupting te sediments at the bottom. Both of these concerns will apply more to older wines, which tend to get moody in their maturity, but older wines are exactly the ones that will be likely to have deteriorated corks, so use caution!

OK then, we are about to go in. First put away the foil cutting blade, you don’t want any boo-boos happening to your hand while attacking the cork, and then extend the corkscrew, to a 90* angle, and then the metal lever, which should extend out fairly straight in reference to the body of the key. To get the center point of the cork, I like to rest the tip of the screw, which winds down at an angle, to the flat top-surface  of the cork.

So the screw is resting back a bit , leaning more towards the glass lip of the bottle, and the very point is only tickling at the cork, like a cat claw that has not quite broken the surface of one’s skin just yet, still just teasing… From this angle you can find the very center, and easily correct if necessary, with out tearing up the surface of the cork. Also, with this approach, the screw goes in from the side, working with the twist of it’s design, rather than trying to stab straight down, which will always land you off of center, due – once more, to the design of the coiled metal, see?

Now you come in from the side, cat claw the center, and then press down for the first twist. As soon as the claw has sunk into the cork, I like to hold the wine key still and firm, while turning the bottle to twist into the cork. At the the first turn or two, you can stop and evaluate your work. Making sure the center target is close enough, and that the line of penetration (ahem) is straight and true! If it ain’t – then now is the time to back out carefully and give it another go. The object of the game is to do as little damage – overall – to the cork as possible.

I have a good line on this one, and twist down, so that about 2/3 of the screw is sunk into the cork, and then I drop the lever.

The lever is dropped...

This is the next chance to double check your work and see if all the angles are working in your favor or not. If the cork is going to tear on you, it will be in the next move. So let’s review… the screw is fairly straight, and well sunk into the cork, & at a near center location. The lever is able to come down fully with out knocking into the lip of the bottle, so that the key must be tilted a bit to get full contact between the two. Then again, if what you are looking at does not meet his description, then you still have two options. 1) You can back out & try the whole drill again, or 2) you can say “screw it” and just try to yank that sucker out anyhow. Either way, do not fret, it is just a bottle of fermented juice, and a little cork dust in their juice never killed anybody!

But assuming all has gone well thus far, you have one last angle to work with for the most accommodating corkage. Again we want to engage both the thumbs, one at the hinge between the key’s body and the lever, and the other holding the bottom of the lever firmly to the lip of the bottle. Then engage pressure, firmly and slowly, with the wrist of the upper hand.

When people refer to “cracking open” a bottle of wine, this moment is the “cracking” to which they refer. That first bit of movement, engaged by the controlled pressure of the wrist will break the seal between cork and glass, and, hopefully give you a very satisfying sensation, and sometimes even an audible sound of a crack, or click (but clicking open a bottle of wine just sounds silly).

As good and pleasant as the cracking may be, the following advent of popping should be avoided, or at least subdued. Sometimes it is bound to happen, but to revel in this effect is considered to be in poor taste. It is jarring to the wine, and is also an indication of haste and irreverence. As much as this is just a bottle of fermented juice, many lives have been dedicated to, and lost in search of,  the prefect wine. So let us take a moment of thanks and grace, as the cork is finally overcome, and removed…

Ok, well that one still popped pretty good, no harm done, & I am now reminded to note that getting from “crack” to “pop” can still take a bit more twisting and turning, as well as pressure applied not only with the tips of the thumbs, but with the base of the lower thumb and even the heel of the hand as well. The theory on the muting of the popping  here is based on getting one edge of the cork out of the bottle first, rather than pulling her out whole hog.

Practice and finesse are always key to all aspects of enjoying wine! Now that you have the old girl open, it is time to decide whether you will pour a glass immediately, or let her breathe for a while. This depends on your varietal, vintage, personal timing, and above all, how thirsty you are…

I am choosing to have a glass right now.

This is to the Saints of New Orleans and a game well played ~ Cheers!

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