You are what you eat & drink

Posts tagged “corks

Sunday Art Fare


Tuscan Wall Art

Once again, lost the source to accredit, if it’s yours let me know and the credit will be added.



What a sommelier actually does

The glamour side

The glamour side

Sommeliers are an interesting bunch. We generally only find them in our better restaurants, where they occupy a specialist role among the front-of-house team. Most people’s exposure to them consists of a brief conversation at a restaurant table when they are selecting a wine or wines to go with their food, but there is a lot more to the sommelier’s job than pulling corks and waxing lyrical with adjective-rich descriptions of the wine.

In essence, the sommelier is there to ensure maximum beverage sales while delivering guest satisfaction; they could also be titled ”beverage sales manager” and the description would be appropriate.

The sommelier is responsible for the construction of the wine list in a restaurant, which in itself is a complex process. Rather than a simple group of wines that take the sommelier’s fancy, the wine list must fulfil a number of important criteria: it must balance with a complex food offering, it must balance with the spending range of the restaurant guests, it must deliver an appropriate profit margin, and it must not require holding excessive amounts of slow-moving stock.

It’s quite a trick to get the wine list right, and this requires constant research. Wine companies and distributors want to feature their wines on the wine lists of ”hatted” restaurants because it boosts their reputation and profile of the wine. As many as 70 sample bottles a week can be presented and each one must be assessed at a tasting.

Now, I love my wine, and have been known to down a couple of bottles in a dedicated session, but I still have empathy for the sommelier and other front-of-house staff having to sample 15 bottles of wine at 9.30 in the morning, several times a week. The smart ones spit, but I have seen several whose obvious love for the product is a portent for an early demise – only the disciplined move gracefully into middle age. Apart from the danger of developing a ceramic liver, constant tasting of wine rots the teeth, and a florid face and bad teeth ain’t a good look.

There is also a great deal of physical work. Pick up a box of wine and feel how heavy it is. The sommelier has to receive incoming stock, check it against the order, and then move it into secure storage – either in boxes or into wine racks. A busy fine-dining restaurant could receive up to 30 boxes of wine and other beverages in a week, all of which have to be physically handled until its ultimate sale.

A sommelier also has the responsibility to train other front-of-house staff to handle, serve and sell the wines once the wine list has been determined. Every time a new wine is added to the list, the waiters and bar staff have to be introduced to it and learn what foods to match it with and how to describe it. Most wine lists are constantly evolving, so the training aspect of the job never stops.

The top sommeliers I have worked with are very talented people who have built up an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the wines and vintages of the old and new worlds. Disciplined and professional, they are commercially pragmatic and are aware that their own palate may have moved away from the mainstream over time and are realistic about selecting wines that meet the needs of their customers. They tend to be quite succinct and accurate in their descriptions.

There are also many less-experienced sommeliers who we dub ”the Wine Fantasy Camp”. These are the enthusiastic young aficionados who possess a higher proportion of enthusiasm than experience. It takes a number of years and quite a deal of focus to develop an accurate wine palate and to learn to be able to confidently identify the various wine varieties and faults.

A lack of experienced staff in the hospitality industry has created an unusual opportunity for some who are possibly not ready to move up in the world of wine service. You can usually identify them from their obvious youth and the bizarre, imaginative descriptions they apply to wines. I’ve always been underwhelmed by sweaty saddles, wet cardboard, pencil shavings, toasty wood, etc. There are quite a few of these oenological space cadets around; they can be entertaining if you don’t take them too seriously.

– Tony Eldred is a consultant to the hospitality industry.


Put a cork in it!

Real corks, made from cork

Real corks, made from cork

I am neither a sommelier, nor  by any means an expert, but I do drink wine.

I am a traditionalist and I like corks.

Real corks, not synthetic corks, not the abominable screw cap, nor the Lego-looking plastic plug you get in fizzy wine, real corks!

If I see a bottle has a screw cap, I immediately overlook it without giving it further consideration; even if it is the type of wine I am looking for, I ignore it.

I also dearly wish that wine labels were required to note whether the cork is of the synthetic variety, then it too would be ignored. I have been known to curse aloud when opening a bottle of wine and finding a synthetic stopper, not to mention further cursing when trying to remove the crappy thing from the corkscrew; they just do not want to unscrew.

Now, I find there is another innovation on the wine scene.

Why the snobbery over corks?

A new wine cork that screws into the bottle is being unveiled. But why is there still so much snobbery in the battle between traditional cork and screw-top?

The sound is unmistakeable.

A scientist might talk about the explosive pop of a wine cork in terms of pressure or elasticity.

But for wine lovers, the distinctive creak and pop means something good is happening. It triggers associations – social intimacy, relaxation, nuanced aromas, celebration – that go far beyond just a slug of alcohol.

The unveiling this week of a new style of cork raises the question of why the traditional kind continues to dominate much of the wine world.

The Helix is opened with just a twist of the hand. No corkscrew is necessary as the top of the bottle has a thread inside.

The glass bottle and cork combination for wine is thought to have started in the 17th Century. But newer materials exist today that some argue are better suited for sealing a bottle than cork.

Screw caps and plastic corks have been embraced by producers fed up with wine becoming “corked” – the unpleasant musty taste, likened to wet dog, which is caused by tainted cork.

Influential US wine critic Robert Parker reckons that during the mid 1990s 7-10% of the wine he tasted was corked. In 2004 he predicted that by 2015 screw caps would dominate the wine industry.

The screw cap – generic name “Stelvin” after its biggest brand – advanced spectacularly in “New World” wine nations. By 2011, 90% of New Zealand wine was sealed this way.

But in Europe and the US the cork remains king.

Read more

Read more

Having read that New Zealand wine is 90% screw capped, they’ve just screwed their sales to one more customer. I am a NZer, I am an ex-pat, I would love to have wine from my own country to share with my company, but they’ve just put paid to any hope of that. Even my patriotism will not supersede my abhorrence of screw caps.


Protest in 2013!

There are some things in this world that should not be touched.

Screw caps for wine

Screw caps for wine

Whether it is for progress, economic reasons, or manufacturing ease.

These screw cap/top monstrosities are not traditional. Wine is a tradition.

These abominable screw caps reduce the wine to the status of soda!

Bottlers have no heart!

I refuse to buy a wine if it has a screw cap.

Synthetic ‘corks’ were bad enough, but screw caps are an anathema, a horror and a plague. They have put one of man’s oldest and dearest traditions in the ‘cheap bin’.

Bring back the cork!


I mean real cork, not these stopper things that look as though they have a condom on them or belong in the kids Lego set.


“That middle ground between true cork and screwcap is occupied by the synthetic cork. On the plus side, there’s no TCA taint, which can arise with natural cork. But on the minus side, the little rubber bullets can be hard to get off the corkscrew (particularly the solid ones), nearly impossible to shove back in the bottle, not biodegradable, and until someone makes a wall of synthetic corks, they haven’t had much appeal being reused functionally or artistically.” – Dr Vino

Protest Today

Leave screw caps on the shelves in wine shops & supermarkets!

Show the winemakers and bottlers

that we will not be dictated to!

Tell them where they can stick their tinny little horrors!

How did Champagne get its Fizz?

Saint-Pierre aux Monts de Châlons and Saint-Pierre d’Hautvillers

The Fizz

These early sparkling wines were the result of an accident. Most ‘vin gris’ in France was drunk young; but when shipped abroad in cask, the warm spring weather frequently set off a secondary fermentation, still underway when the wines arrived. Through trade with Spain and Portugal, the cork stopper was already in common use in England for ales, an advantage the landlocked provinces of France did not yet enjoy. These delicate new wines were bottled immediately upon their arrival, and retained, in more or less haphazard fashion a lively sparkle. The phenomenon aroused considerable academic and commercial interest on the part of the Champenois.

The first successful, deliberate methods of capturing the ‘mousse’ in the bottle were due to the combined efforts of the monastic orders of Pierry and Epernay. Under the inspired direction of their respective cellarmasters, Frère Jean Oudart (1654 – 1742) and Dom Pierre Pérignon (1639 – 1715), the abbeys of Saint-Pierre aux Monts de Châlons and Saint-Pierre d’Hautvillers became the birthplace of naturally sparkling wine in its purest and most perfect form.

Courtesy: Champagne Magic Lots more history there