Wine Tools and Toys
Wine lovers love their toys. We have aerators, bottle tags, bottle stoppers, coasters, corkscrews, capsule cutters, carafes, decanters, drip screens… and that’s only the first four letters of the alphabet. You’ve got to hand it to the creative thinkers in the wine paraphernalia business, they do keep them coming. The culture of wine seems to breed a nearly endless array of gadgets and gizmos. But which of these items are really purposeful? Let’s look at some of the standard gear.
Glassware can cost anywhere from a single dollar up to $50 per stem for expensive crystal. I love a nice wine glass, but as beautifully enhancing as a quality glass is to wine, it can be an ergonomic nightmare. Think about it. Let’s fill perhaps a one third pound of often times pricey juice in a fragile bowl, perch it atop a single thin stem of glass and then let sometimes-tipsy people play with it. Brilliant. Regardless of its practicality, quality wine stemware is essential. Styrene cups won’t cut it. If they did, our college kids would be playing wine pong.
This is the quintessential wine tool and the entire wrist-twisting, cork-popping, tip-and-sip ritual is dependent upon this device. Despite the advent of alternative bottle closures, I seriously doubt the corkscrew is in any danger of extinction. Until someone invents a screwcap that makes the same popping noise as a pulled cork, forget about it. Plus, try sniffing a screwcap. Eww.
A wine decanter is really no more than a pitcher with a smaller pourer. Its purpose is to expose the wine to the open air, which opens up the flavors and bouquet of the wine. And yes, it actually does improve the flavor of most (but not all) finer wines – particularly reds. Truth be told, a pitcher would actually serve as a better aerator of vino since it allows for more air exposure due to the wider opening. A fishbowl would function even better than a pitcher if aeration was the only purpose, but neither a pitcher nor a fishbowl would be any fun, would they? So, they dress up a pitcher with various funky shapes and elegant curves and call it a decanter. That way, they can charge you more for it.
Seriously, we live in Nebraska. You need one of these about as bad as Antarctica needs an ice maker. Save your money.
The fingernail scraping and ripping method of capsule removal can be clumsy and cumbersome. That’s why a small but deadly sharp hook knife is usually tucked neatly into the handle of the aforementioned corkscrew. It is employed to remove the metal capsule that covers the bottle top and cork, and it can be a tricky tool. It is frequently used improperly, and the spear-sharpening method so frequently employed by neophytes can be a bit ugly – even hazardous. The stick whittler comes to mind. Or the carrot peeler. I’ve seen glass chip, fingers nipped and lots of wine drip as a result of the improper hack-attack technique of foil cap removal. It’s not pretty.
An alternative tool for capsule removal is an actual foil cutter, which you squeeze tightly over the top of the bottle while simultaneously rotating it with your free hand. It is a small tool, comfortably fitting in your palm. It is quite simple to use and produces a perfectly clean, smooth cut along the lip of the bottle. You can purchase a foil cutter for about three bucks. No kidding. Why most wine lovers do not own one is baffling to me. My thinking is that if it came in elegant shapes, was made of crystal, somehow made a distinct popping sound as the foil was removed and sold for about forty bucks, it would sell like hotcakes. I guess wine people don’t like cheap stuff.
Few items in your kitchen stain tablecloths and carpets as well as wine does. Those pesky wine drips running undetectably down the side of an open bottle are significantly reduced with a bottle coaster. From around $10-$50, depending on how much you wish to spend, you can acquire a nice silver or pewter piece that looks quite attractive on your table, and they last forever. Yes, forever. It’s a no brainer. Go buy one.
As with the bottle coaster and foil cutter, more folks should consider using these. Inexpensive tags are a mere couple of inches of hard stock paper with a hole cut out to hang onto the bottle neck, labeled for each one lying horizontally in your cellar rack. These tags eliminate the age old ritual of sliding a dozen or so bottles from their horizontal laydown rack position every time you wish to locate a particular wine in your cellar. Such a repetitive act can be unnerving. Think of it as milking a cow sideways – or checking each individual egg in the container before buying the dozen. Wouldn’t such a tedious process be much simplified if every egg had a tag that said ‘unbroken’, and every udder had a marking stating ‘all dried up’ when it was? Ok, that was bad. Never mind.
Yes, buy one. Storing your wine bottles on their side will keep the cork moist, which prevents oxidation and spoilage of your precious vino. It also eliminates the “bowling with wine bottles” effect of single-minded bottles rolling aimlessly along a refrigerator shelf or cabinet counter every time a door is opened. Simple countertop versions can be acquired for as little as $20. For those looking for a more substantial piece of furniture to spice up a kitchen or dining area, a wine rack, table or cabinet can be quite a beautiful focal point. They can also be a bit expensive if you choose to go that route, but well worth the price for both their beauty and functionality.
These are pretty much extinct. Call them old school decanters, often used to house everyday wines of sometimes indiscriminate quality. Personally, I kind of liked them. They looked nice on a table and were easy to pour from. Carafes bring back vivid memories of happy times in many of Omaha’s old Italian restaurants. I guess that makes me ‘old school’… sigh.
We know what a wine stopper does. Bear in mind, the ultimate wine closure (aka the cork) already comes with the bottle. That being the case, the stopper – while actually performing a function – is often times not much more than an ornamental adornment. Perched atop your bottle, it may be the single greatest item of bling for displaying your opened wine bottle. Stoppers come in a nearly endless selection of decorative and artistic styles. Think of the stopper as the lipstick, make up and earrings for your wine. It is there for appearances, it won’t change what’s inside, but if you’re bringing it to the party, the least you can do is dress it up a bit.
So, there’s my rundown of a few of the more standard wine tools for your tool box. Some are essential, some are not. Shop around and acquire some of these items to enhance the enjoyment of your wine tasting experience. After all, wine tasting should be fun and we adults should be allowed our toys. We’ll leave the beer pong to the kids.
John Finocchiaro is co-owner of Johnson Brothers Finocchiaro, LLC, a Nebraska wholesale wine, spirits, and beer distributor. Formerly the owner of Finocchiaro Wine Co., Inc., John has been in the wine distribution business for the past 25 years and the Finocchiaro family's association with the Nebraska wine industry has been continuous for the past 73 years, since 1935. John was a Certified Public Accountant before entering the family business and is a Certified Specialist of Wine.
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