There is nothing sexy about twisting a screw cap in front of a guest on the restaurant floor. Pouring a sip of the wine for the host that ensues has always made me ponder whether or not this ritual no longer has utilitarian purpose. At best, it is a vestigial ceremony. There have often been quips from guests like, “Obviously it’s not corked!” as they slam it down their gullet and reengage in conversation.
A couple nights ago, I was forced to rethink my dogmatic stance. I was lucky enough to be at the right bar at the right time. A fellow wine enthusiast came in and sat next to me at the restaurant’s bar where I was dining. He had in tow 2 half bottles of Bonny Doon’s Le Cigar Volant from the 2004 vintage. After he tasted the first half bottle he told the bartender that he needed a second round of glasses for the other bottle. The first one seemed off.
I couldn’t help but ask to taste his wine. It was good. Acidity was elevated, fruit was subdued, but overall a tasty beverage. Then came the second half bottle. It was magnificent- one of those wines that you don’t want to drink in order to have more time smelling it.
I was perplexed. How could 2 bottles that came from the same case and stored in the same cellar under Stelvin closure taste so different? I realized that I had in my phone the perfect solution, Randall Graham’s cell phone number. We hosted a winemaker dinner a few years ago at my restaurant. As he made the wine and is one of the most erudite winemakers I’ve ever met, I sent him a text message asking about the anomaly. He responded:
“It happens occasionally but mercifully not very often with Stelvin. Could be cellar error (though I trust fairly unlikely) of maybe more SO2 in one part of tank than another- we have procedures in place to generally rule that out. Most likely a mechanical defect of Stelvin or injury to bottle somewhere in its lifetime. We have cellar procedures that test the function of the Stelvin spinner- our crew is generally good at following. Sorry for the funky bottle. But thanks so much for your support.”
In summation, there is a thing called a Stelvin spinner that I was unaware of and Randall is a wonderful human being. Oh and bottle variation can happen under Stelvin.
I have seen some variation in Screw caps. It's a great seal but still not totally perfect (and I prefer it over cork any day of the week) If you are deeming the closure for a bottle of wine as "sexy" then you're doing it wrong. This applies for screw cap, cork, crown cap, or any of the others. It actually is "what's on the inside" that counts. I'm a fan of protecting the wine- I don't care how you do it.
You're saying pulling tree bark out of a bottle isn't an aphrodisiac? I used to trust you, Crane.
As a side note, stelvin spinners make for a LONG day on the bottling line. I'll take the speed of a corker any day of the week.
Perhaps "sexy" was not the right word choice. I generally eschew the "masculine" and "feminine" terms when it comes to describing wine. There is a romance element involved in the decorum of opening a wine bottle. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the creativity that you have and the way you tell stories Eric. What would you propose is better?
I reckon my view is that there's nothing about opening a bottle of wine that deserves much in the way of pomp and circumstance. It should just be done as quietly, quickly, and seamlessly as possible so as not to take away from conversation or the setting. The food on the plate is far more important than watching someone reduce a sauce. The wine itself is what should spark something. Cracking a bottle open will never compete with the experience of drinking what is held inside. I hope this helps. We aren't serving wine to put any focus on ourselves- we are merely servants. We are there to make the guest happy.
Unless I am mistaken, the expression, “we know its not corked” is something that needs to be understood is a false statement. Anything that has seen barrel can see tca from my understanding. Winemaking facilities can have tca on almost any surface. I too have seen the variation under stelvin. We had some nz sb that tasted like canned green beans/so2 and then the rest of the case was perfect. I still believe in having the guest always taste for quality assurance.
I agree with everything that you pointed out. Wine flaws are not relegated to T.C.A. from natural cork. We as sommeliers need to be aware that a Stelvin, cork, zork, composite, synthetic, or any other kind of closure can be fallible. We are in a transitional time, in that we need to be adept at reliably presenting the best possible product in the least obtrusive way. In most of our guest's viewpoint, that involves their familiarity with watching waiters or sommeliers exhume natural cork from their bottles.
Preach brotha, im with you!