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Wine 101: How to properly open and pour a bottle of wine

Posted by Bill Stobbs on February 19, 2019

In Wine, Wine 101, Wine Tips

So, you are hosting, but your knowledge of opening and serving wine is limited. Perhaps you’ve been known to enjoy a glass or two, but have never had to actually go through the technicalities of self-serving. Now, you are entertaining someone you are trying to impress – a date perhaps, or a friend, or a business associate. Well, the good news, although the situation seems daunting and full of potential embarrassment, it is really quite simple and as easy as ABC.

First of all, you have the choice of cork or screw cap. Don’t be put off by the thoughts of a screw cap, also known as the Stelvin closure system. Some of the finest wines in the world are now packaged this way, and it actually costs wineries more than cork. The deciding factor for wineries is that the quality of cork is not what it once was. This system allows for considerably fewer returns of ‘bad’ wine. More important to you is that the wine comes to you exactly as the winemaker meant it to be, and the wine remains fresh for a much longer period of time. In this case you just twist the lower part of the enclosure – the part around the neck of the bottle – and you’re ready to serve.

If, however, the wine you choose to serve has a cork – well, that’s not very difficult either. There are a number of different types of corkscrews to choose from as well as a few emergency methods if you don’t happen to have one on you.

Sommelier's Knife

The simplest and the best style of corkscrew used most by professionals is the waiter’s friend, also known as the sommelier’s knife. This is an inexpensive and portable tool that fits easily in your pocket or handbag. Here’s how it works:

  • Use the cutting blade to remove the foil. One swipe down, cut around the lower lip on the neck of the bottle, and remove. It is important that the foil does not touch the wine as it could influence the taste.
  • Holding the bottle in one hand, turn the worm of the corkscrew clockwise into the center of the cork, leaving the last curl visible. This is done so as not to push any particles of the cork into the wine.
  • Placing the lever arm or ‘fulcrum’ on the rim of the bottle, lift the body of the waiter’s friend, which will raise the cork. Most waiter’s friends these days have a double-hinged lever which makes it even easier.
  • Strictly for show, pull the last third of the cork out manually. The resounding ‘pop!’ gives it a nice flair.

Wing Corkscrew The second most popular type of wine opener is the wing corkscrew. This option is considered to be even easier to use, and while there is certainly nothing wrong with using it to open your wine bottle, it is sometimes looked down upon by experienced wine lovers. Here is how to use this method:

  • Use a blade to cut away the foil as above.
  • Place the tip of the worm of the corkscrew against the cork, holding both the neck of the bottle and the corkscrew with one hand. The metal cap which encircles the tip of the corkscrew should rest comfortably against the top of the wine bottle. The wings should be pointing down.
  • Turn the handle at the top of the corkscrew. As the worm is twisted into the bottle the wings will begin to rise.
  • When the wings have completely risen press them both down to remove the cork.

Of course, there are many other styles of corkscrews, some very expensive, but most wine professionals prefer these essential types. Save your money for more wine!

Here’s where it gets crafty. What do you do if you find yourself in a situation where you have no corkscrew available? There are a number of unconventional methods used when you need to MacGyver the bottle open. You could hammer some nails into the cork and use the hammer claw to pull them up, thus removing the cork as well. You can also remove the foil, place the bottle in the foot hole of your shoe, and smack the base of the bottle against a wall. This will gradually force the cork out of the bottle far enough for you to pull out the remainder.

The next step is pouring the wine ---

  • Check the wine glasses for dust or smudges. If necessary, wipe with a clean cloth.
  • Wipe the opening of the wine bottle.
  • Carefully pour 4 – 6 ounces into the glass. The glass should be only half filled, allowing plenty of room for the aromas to gather and reach your nose.
  • For still wines leave the glass on the table and pour directly into the center from a height of 6 – 10 inches. This allows a certain amount of aeration which will improve the flavor and soften the tannins of your wine. For sparkling wines tilt the glass and pour against the side. This keeps the bubbles intact.
  • Twist the bottle slightly at the end of the pour, which will help eliminate any drips.
  • Wipe the neck of the wine bottle again.

Champagne Cork

Lastly, we should say a few words about opening a bottle of sparkling wine or champagne ---

  • Make sure the sparkling wine is well-chilled. Otherwise the cork could pop of its own accord and the wine may foam up and become quite messy (as well as being a waste of good bubbly).
  • Dry the bottle with a clean cloth.
  • Remove the foil.
  • Keeping your thumb firmly on the top of the cork twist the retaining wire six half turns counterclockwise. Remove the cage or let it remain on the cork.
  • Grip the cork in one hand and gently twist the bottle back and forth with the other hand. Gradually pull the bottle away from the cork. There should be only a whisper of noise as the cork is separated from the bottle. (If you happen to like the sound of a hearty ‘pop!’ it’s okay to let the cork fly but please be very careful to aim the bottle away from people and other breakable objects.)

Like much to do with wine it can seem scary at first, but don’t let that hold you back. It’s all quite simple and is bound to impress your guests. And if anything, the wine will taste even better to you!

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