A User’s Guide to Cork Popping Perfection
This Sunday night, one thing is assured: someone in Miami will be popping a lot of Champagne. Though beer may be the beverage most often associated with football, the Superbowl calls for a loftier drink. And nothing says “giant, honking win accompanied by great big Superbowl champ ring and bragging rights” like Champagne.
There is something about the ritual of opening the bottle, the “pop” of the cork, and the fizzy bubbles that makes Champagne the most obvious toast of champions. There’s the noise, the expectation, the possibility that something could go awry, the sheer festivity of the effervescence, and the tradition. But there’s also no denying that Champagne is a celebration in a glass. Whether you’re rooting for the Colts or the Saints, you want to have Champagne at the ready.
Here are a few guidelines that will help anyone open a bottle without ruining the wine—or injuring any guests.
- Make sure the bottle is properly chilled; Champagne needs to be around 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Remove the foil; there’s usually a little tab or ear to grab and make it easier.
- While keeping one thumb pressed on the top of the cage, use your other hand to twist the little metal tab on the cage, usually about counterclockwise six turns.
- Remove the cage and put pressure on the cork, so it doesn’t shoot out. (The cork can become very narrow on older vintages, so be careful!).
- Hold the cork in place with your left hand, and slowly twist the bottle with your right. (Unless you’re left-handed, in which case reverse those directions.)
- When the cork starts to push out, hold it firmly and allow it to come out very slowly. When the cork is almost out, tilt the cork slightly to allow the CO2 to come out through the smaller space. You should hear a quiet “pffftt” sound—the quieter the better. If the pop is loud, it means that you’ve let out a lot more CO2, thus making the sparkling wine less sparkly.
- Pour into flutes and enjoy liberally while shouting “Who Dat!” at the top of your lungs. (Feel free to substitute other slogans at your discretion and to add flourishes such as high fives, chest bumps and touchdown booty bumps.)
If you follow the steps above, you’ll ensure a safe and happy toasting to the undoubted winners of Superbowl XLIV, the New Orleans Saints. You might also be able to toast the Colts, though I wouldn’t encourage your hopes.
Fun for Everyone, Until It’s Not
I love looking for, finding and reading online forums on controversial wine topics because I truly enjoy reading when people make severely harsh arguments—even if I don’t understand why they feel the need to be so impassioned. Wine has always been such a tremendous source of pleasure for me, so I just don’t understand the commotion. I find it all endlessly amusing to read how people become hostile debating hot wine topics like oak, closure, Robert Parker, or the advantages of Old World over New World wine production. However, as much as I enjoy a spirited debate, at some point my previously enjoyable reading has begun to feel rather unpleasant. I had to consider what was bothering me.
Take the topic of cork, for example. There are long-winded arguments that go into copious detail about the tradition of cork or the technical benefits of Stelvin, the screw-cap wine closure of most producers’ choice. To be honest, I really have no major stake in either closure. While I’m sure there are compelling reasons for both corks and Stelvin, I really only care which one will deliver the wine in better condition. There are those who would argue for the beauty and the ceremony of opening a bottle, but I have always been more interested in the enjoyment of drinking the wine. If the wine is good, I’ll unscrew a cap—I’d even poke a hole like a juice box, pop a cap like a beer bottle or flip a lid like a milk container. The point to me is the quality of the wine, not the perfection of the delivery system.
It’s not just corks; the topic of Old World vs. New World has begun to feel as inane to me as Brunettes vs. Blondes or Yankees vs. Red Sox. Today we can surely say there are wonderful wines made in many places, and I don’t know that one has to be better than the other. To attempt to answer this challenge is futile because there are so many compelling reasons to enjoy both. Certainly, if there’s one area in our lives that doesn’t demand monogamy, it’s our devotion to the beverage industry. It’s fair—and laudable—to sample many kinds of wines from many places.
Reading these many debates, I suspect the single greatest improvement in the industry has been in the people who represent it. Where wine experts were often accurately portrayed as snobs years ago, today there are an inordinate number of down-to-earth, socially graceful people who characterize our profession. The days of over- opinionated blowhards have passed. Now we enjoy affable individuals who can appreciate a broad array of perspectives, opinions and values. I love knowing that I’m part of a group I’d want to share a drink with.
And yet, reading these debates, feeling suspiciously uncomfortable at the ire they raise, and sensing a level of minutia too great even for a wine geek like me, I suspect I am more inclined to foster the enjoyment of wine than to argue about the superior intellectual execution of it. Indeed, I’ll drink to that.
Date Night on the Fly
When you have a two-year-old child, you find that wine tasting weekends often come to a near dead stop; however, I’ve also found that as my consumption slows, my anticipation rises. The highly prized date night becomes as rare as Henri Jayer’s Vosne-Romanée Cros-Parantoux, so a new sense of creativity emerges and my wife and I turn to “what gastronomic trip can be done quick and late.” Instead of going out for some Moules à la Marinière and Champagne, we pick up some fresh mussels to create our own Balthazar experience. This weekend’s adventure brought together Spain and Switzerland, for a Jamón meets Fondue expedition (followed by some Lipitor). It was a meal so easy and seasonal that it has to be shared.
There are few starter dishes that rival Cava and Jamón, but one is Sabaté I Coca Brut Nature Reserva Familiar and the Iberico Jamón de Bellota, a prized cured meat that comes from the hind leg of the black coated pigs of Andalusia, fed and fattened exclusively on acorns in the wild (consuming up to twenty pounds in a day). On the palate, the ham melts on your tongue and unveils a unique nutty flavor that lingers longer than Masseto. Typically, sommeliers will recommend a Sherry pairing for the Jamón, but the cool, refreshing Cava works to cleanse the palate even as the silky fat from the ham amplifies the fruit and weight in the wine. For me, the pairing has few gastronomic rivalries, and it ranks up there with my experiences of putting Aldo Conterno Barolo Granbussia with Alba’s white truffles or Sartarelli Classico (Verdicchio) paired with Le Marche’s shellfish. While long banned in this country, the expensive ham is worth the treat and eating it takes me back to my honeymoon in San Sebastían.
For the main course, we unwrapped the 26-piece deluxe Fondue set we received three years ago as a wedding gift, which prompted me to ask my wife if we’d remembered to send the givers a thank-you card. After recalling we had not and expressing a cringe and a sigh, we got started by grating a quartet of cheeses, Comté, Gruyère, Appenzeller, and Swiss Emmentaler to equal four cups. We then simply added the cheese slowly to 1 ½ cups of simmering white wine. The trick to preventing the fondue from breaking apart is stirring in a slow, zigzag motion and bathing the grated cheeses in two tablespoons of dry cornstarch.
Voilà! Our fondue was soon ready. We poured the melted cheese in heated Fondue pot and began dunking steamed, baby portobellos, sliced Barlett and Asian Pears, hard Italian salumi, and peppers, along with some chicken and apple sausage.
We complemented the fondue with Castellroig Sabaté I Coca Brut Nature Reserva Familiar, Sartarelli Classico, and Álvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat. While the wines of Palacios rank among my favorites, I knew that the evening’s dishes called for white and sparkling wines, and the ultimate pairing goes to pear wrapped with Jamón dunked in the warm cheese followed by a swig of Cava. In hindsight, I think I would add a Riesling from Boxler or JJ Prüm to play off the pear and provide some nice acidic zip and contrast to the mouth coating dishes. Just out of curiosity, what would you reach for?
“Ultima Thule, Journal of the Farthest Places”
A few weeks back I received the year-end edition of Geographic Expeditions’ newsletter: Ultima Thule, Journal of the Farthest Places. Over the years, I’ve come to love reading these newsletters because they remind me that life as I experience it tomorrow can be so very different from what I experience every day, if I just hop on a plane (which I do as frequently as possible). Ultima Thule is a term from medieval maps that means “beyond the borders of the known world”; I like the idea that even on this heavily explored planet there are still places left to discover.
The newsletter sub-title reads “The More You Travel in It, the Bigger the World Gets,” and the text exclaims, “Let’s welcome the new year with some good, breaking news: the world has not become homogenized, Starbucksed, and McDonald’sed nearly to death.” It goes on to say, “But you probably run into people who drone on about this poor shrunken world and what a mess it’s in.” Reading these lines, I couldn’t help but think how valid this sentiment is not just in the world at large, but also in the world of wine.
Just as many travelers decry there being any undiscovered getaways, many wine lovers bemoan “standardizing yeasts” and gluts of Cabernet and Chardonnay on the market. Such arguments are fair enough in some regards and at an entry to mid-market quality level. However, especially in the premium quality wine world, I argue the diversity of the wine world is increasing! More producers are making more wines in many more corners of the earth, creating new wine styles and “terroir” influence; native varieties are being resuscitated; and new winemaking techniques are being experimented with, while old ones are revisited. The vintages keep changing wines every year, too, especially given shifting weather patterns and winegrowers who are discovering new (or rediscovering old) ways of working with weather. We’re also shipping wine all over the globe rather than drinking only what’s in the spigot at the local co-op.
Just as a quick example, a dinner party last night, we opened up wines from Abruzzo (1995 Emidio Pepe Trebbiano, deliciously oxidized, nutty notes), Napa (2007 Selene Sauvignon Blanc and 1999 Paul Hobbs Cabernet), Rheinhessen (1989 Wittmann Albalonga, a grape variety, Beerenauslese), Austria (2003 Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner; 2000 Jamek Riesling Ried Klaus; and a Bründlmayer sekt, a sparkling wine) and France (a 1999 sweet wine from Gaillac and a fortified 1994 Cave de l’Abbé Rous Banyuls.) We had a wealth of diversity to celebrate—along with the host’s generosity.
I’d say the biggest homogenizing point in wine in the last twenty years has simply been cleaning them up. While I admit that this is a big homogenizing point, I have to counter that objection with a question: how can improving quality be bad? I look at diminished brettanomyces, lowered volatile acidity and reduced unintentional oxidation, and I see the positives.
Just as we need to be open to traveling to new and undiscovered destinations, we have to be open to new and possibly unusual wines, like Movia, Gravner and Dettori, among so many others we offer at IWM. The breadth of choices in wine is greater than ever. Once open to discovery, we’ll keep seeing just how much there is yet to explore.
Wine and theatre: what better way to raise money than to combine two of the most creative subjects on the planet? The Benevolent, a London-based charity that supports members of the drinks industry who have given much of their time and life to the profession and are now in need, recently did just that, and their last fundraiser was a stroke of genius. Knowing that many eccentrics exist in the wine business and, of course, in the theatre, they decided to bring the two together for a fun-filled night of fairy-tales, silliness and wine-focused entertainment.
Around a week and a half ago, the Benevolent staged “Vinderella,” a raunchy, taboo rendition of the fairy tale we all know and love and a theatrical wine parody starring a cast stock full of wine professionals. Done up British pantomime style, the show included a plethora of innuendos, audience participation, good guys and bad guys, and pure hilarity. One of the main focuses of British pantomime is to make it appealing to youngsters, while simultaneously shocking and surprising the older audience members with sexual metaphors, and the end result is to keep the children smiling and the adults snickering throughout.
I am not sure how much more ridiculous a show can really get, especially when bringing wine‘s many clichés and assumptions into a theatre space—and especially when the audience is comprised of one of the most joyously and self-admittedly self-important people on earth: wine lovers. The show has a rotating cast of wine experts from across the globe, such as Janice Robinson, MW; Simon Berry; Decanter columnists Hugh Johnson and Michael Broadbent; Anna Nobile of Phipps PR; Venia Freeman from the Wine Institute of California; and wine writer Charles Metcalfe.
In one of the play’s moments, Nobile plays Vinderella and Metcalfe (dressed as one of the ugly stepsisters) plays Botrytis, the fickle mold that grows on grapes used for dessert wines, such as Sauternes. Interviewed by a wine “journalist,” the two are quite impressive during their improvisation. When Botrytis exclaims, “Do I spit?! Do YOU spit!?” and when Vinderella asserts that she has the “perfect palate,” the audience erupts into laughter. Even more entertaining is when the interviewer asks them if they were grapes, which grapes would they be, Botrytis snaps, “Well you know, I’d like to be Riesling but the figure eludes me. I think possibly something like Viognier, big and busty and very full-throated and sort of opulent; sexy.” Wine, sexual innuendo and over-the-top theatre—these are all good things.
Being a member of a non-profit theatre company myself as well as a sales associate for IWM, I can see no better way to create revenue for a good cause than using the subject of wine to create theatrical comedy. Who wouldn’t pay to see distinguished wine connoisseurs run about in wigs, wear crazy makeup and comment on wine in an outrageous, hysterical way? It’s great to see that oenophiles can take it, as much as they can pour it out—especially when it’s for a really good cause.« go back — keep looking »