We’re back to more controversial topics on my latest Playboy.com Wined Down column. Admit it, you like it controversial, don’t you…?
About two weeks ago, PB published my list of Four Wine Traditions That Need To Die. And the sooner that those traditions shuffle off their mortal coils, the better.
Those traditions are, in order of appearance:
- Sniffing the cork (isn’t that kind of like sniffing a jar lid?)
- Paying any attention whatsoever to a wine’s “legs” (especially when you could be paying attention to your dinner date’s legs)
- The overly-generous (but overly-stupid, for many reasons) “overpour”
- Going for a loud “pop” when opening a bottle of sparkling wine (you paid extra for those bubbles, so why the hell are you letting so many of them out when you open the bottle?)
I am absolutely serious about each and every one of them, too.
I’d add a fifth, which would be that online wine writing is just as valid and has just as much reach as writing that appears in print, but we both know that one is a losing battle at the moment, right? Ahh… maybe someday…
Anyway, would love to hear your thoughts on those long-standing traditions – so go on over and read the details, and come back here and let me know if I got it right (or wrong!).
33 thoughts on “Wined Down: Four Wine Traditions That Need To Die”
Gotta disagree with you on Point One. I sniff the cork of every bottle I open (sometimes even the synthetic ones, by mistake) because it's a clue as to what you're gonna get in the glass. Examine the cork for excessive wetness and streaks that reach the top. Look at the top of the cork.. is there wine there? Maybe the bottle leaked or the cork didn't seal and the wine is oxidized, or the bottle was stored on top of the hot water heater where it cooked.
The sniff is your first clue of cork taint, but there's also mouldiness and other nasty smells that you can glean from the cork.
Smelling the cork doesn't have to be an exercise in douchebaggery… it's just a moment of attention to the closure, wine's front line of defense against the nasty, oxidative world outside… and it can tell you quite a lot.
Wayne – appreciate what you're saying, but I've lost count of the number of times I've gotten something off in the wine but the cork smelled fine. Having said that, there is one instance in which I can understand sniffing the cork – to tell if a wine that seems “dead” might be corked, in which case the cork might (***might***) smell of TCA. But that's a very small percentage of the time. I'm not saying don't look at the cork – it can give you clues, particularly on older wines, show if the cork every leaked, etc.
Rather than kill off all these traditions, only one needs to die, as an example to the others, I think. Here are my thoughts:
Sniffing the cork is not helpful for precisely the reasons you said. As well, there's a small chance someone could walk by, bump your elbow, and you'd be left with an embarrassing red stain upon your nose. Far better is to feel the cork, to see if it's dried out, if it's crumbled, etc. As for the end of the cork that was inside the wine bottle, use it as a stamp. It would not only be a way to dry out the cork if you wanted to keep it for some reason, it would also rock as a different sort of signature for documents.
Examining the legs of the wine isn't particularly helpful. However, it is interesting if you're into fluid dynamics, and if you like trying to form interesting patterns in the dissolved residual sugars and alcohols as they fall back downwards into the glass. It's not helpful at all, but I wouldn't stop anyone from doing it unless we have serious time constraints.
Over-pouring defeats the purpose of having wine glasses with bowls. It also increases the chances of spilling the wine, which would generally be a bad thing. As well, it's inconsiderate to people who only want a bit of wine because they need to sober up to drive afterwards.
Going for a loud "pop" when opening sparkling wine is usually impolite, but it could be forgiven if you get together with a large group of people, each with their own bottle of bubbly, who are attempting to break the world record for making the loudest sound by simultaneously opening bottles of sparkling wine. That's not a typical situation, however, so trying to preserve the bubbles in the bottle is more typically polite.
MyrddinGwin- Who *isn't* into fluid dynamics??? ;-)
I believe the initial reason for showing the cork in a restaurant was to establish the wine's authenticity–the rest came wiht the ponmp.
I agree with all of these, Joe. To those who believe that sniffing the cork–or feeling it–is a clue, so what? You still must sample the wine to know for sure, and if you've set yourself up by believing the cork has told you something, you just might find what isn't exactly there.
My habit is to sniff the first pour. If I can't tell something may be right or wrong, I consider going for remedial training.
If I am having the wine, myself, I agree completely. Smelling the wine is more important. The reason I feel the cork is that I can do it covertly when opening a bottle of wine for a guest at the restaurant. If, when opening the bottle, the cork feels completely wrong, I have an immediate indication that the wine is faulted so I can replace the bottle without needing to pour myself a taste. There are faults I can miss by touch alone, like VA, but it does help with indicating oxidation or mouldiness. It's just a first-pass quality check.
Thomas – exactly!
oops: "the rest came with the pomp." Typing too fast.
You're right on target with losing those five out-dated rituals – common sense and experience dictate that. In the 1960s when someone opened a restaurant bottle, I'd rub the wet end on the back of my hand for a sniff. I abondoned that practice with the advent of antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers. I was taught early on to always open sparklers as you suggested – heck I had some great wine mentors. Anone who overfills a wine glass should be shot at sunrise because they really fail to understand that the nose is the most necessary ingredient in tasting wine. Or as a friend and mento once said: "The nose knows."
I was thinking the other day that you must be the only wine blooger making a small fortune doing so. How so? I figure from your gig on Playboy you are now hugely paid as everyone knows that the writers there are the one's who make the big bucks because people only buy the mag to read the articles. I suppose those other bloogers who are making a small fortune are only doing so because they started with a large fortune.
Okay, so I should stop over thinking this stuff, Les
Thanks, Les. Actually, I’m still trying to figure out how to make a living at all of this madness. I love the PB gig, but it’s not a high-paying one (the benefits, however, in terms of reach and “brand name” are self-evident, I think). I can try this while still providing for my family because in some ways I started with a small fortune. It’s funny that you brought this up today, because I’ve actually been encouraged very recently by some people to talk about in detail the whole financial aspect of what I am doing, but I’ve hesitated for a variety of reasons (I don’t want to come off as boastful, I’m not sure if it would make for compelling reading, and it’s at best only marginally connected to wine). Reading your comment suggests that I should probably just get over it all and do a video about it and get it over with, and let the people who are gonna pick on me for not talking about wine directly just pick on me for a few days. :)
You'd have to be a real cork-sniffer to not saber your champagne. The rest of you leg-gazers can be on my team, I'll have ye.
(btw, playboy.com is blocked on my work network, and I have chosen to leave it that way.)
Nick – Sabering gets a pass, because of the bad-ass factor. As for blocking PB – I hope I didn't offend ye!
Do people really still do these things? I thought all these traditions died out years ago. They are all silly. The 5th comment about wine writing is certainly valid. Online wine writing, written wine writing and even wine podcasts or videos are valid if the writer knows wine and knows what he is talking about. (You do, so that's not an issue.)
The reach, however, is something that will vary from one format to another and one writer to another. What gets measured, likes? page views? comments? circulation?
Larry – well, they still do them in restaurants based on my own experience. Thanks for the vote of confidence on my stuff (and online in general). IN terms of reach, I think it's “all of the above” – namely, how many potential eyeballs will read/view it (both in terms of RSS subscriptions, email subscriptions, and visits), and how many might not read it but still see the “brand” being discussed (those count in terms of mindshare, I think), and the like – the latter being a big one for the PB gig, just because they have so many friggin' eyeballs hitting the home page. Now, the vasy majority of those eyeballs aren't clicking through to my column, but if the column is featured on the homepage for a few hours, then that's hundreds of thousands of people who will see whatever the topic is, even if they never read the column. I suspect that still has some reach – not nearly as deep, and much more superficial, but still reach in the broadest sense. Cheers!
I could agree with all of these to a point. Just a note on champagne/bubbly is that when opening it is supposed to be like a nun farting at church, as I have been told. But whether you open loudly or not the same amount of gas would be released, unless it overflows, then your right. Though it is fun to let the cork pop and see how far it can go (outside of course)
You could also add the tradition or practice of tasting room personell who like to tell customesr to swirl the wine to the left, smell and then swirl the wine to the right and smell again. The farse that swirling to the left will smell differently than the right swirl. I really think that and all mis-information should go by the wayside. Wine is confusing enough for people in general as it is and I don't need bad factoids or "fun" info to screw people up.
Robert – thanks; had not heard about the swirl directions thing, that sounds… odd! Like the toilets spinning the opposite way in the different hemispheres (which they don't… :).
Those anti-bacterial soaps are dangerous to our well being. They kill friendly bacteria, making you even more susceptible to problems.
You never knew the Mother Superior of our church!
Nice list… I've taught for years that wait-staff don''t even leave the cork as it presents two problems. Most casual wine consumers don't know what a corked wine smells like, so there is slight chance that the smell the cork and the come to a conclusion that causes a restaurant some issues. The second reason is due to so many times I've walked past a table that is having dessert and coffee and the cork is still rolling about the table.
The pop of a cork should only be heard in certain Italian restaurants when the waiter uses their thighs to help them remove the the cork from the bottle!!! If it's sparkling there shouldn't be any sound unless the person opening the bottle is aiming at something. I hit a lamp at The 21 Club with a cork once, very entertaining indeed.
@noblewines – thanks… more details about this lamp-targeting incident, please! :)
haha, I didn't realize that these tradition's were still practiced. I never smell the wine cork….seems odd when you can just smell the wine. I never turn down an overpour, and it's fun to comment on a wine's legs but that's as far as I get.
Amy – I suppose if you have two glasses, then the overpour is just another glass waiting to happen…
My wine box doesn't appear to have a cork. Am I doing it wrong? What SHOULD I smell then?
Matt – You have to get the box up really high, then get your head under the tap and open your mouth before opening the tap. Tip the box if necessary! :)
I'm with you on all of these, but especially the "legs". I've had people come into the tasting room a number of times who believe "legs" are an important factor in determining quality of a wine. They end up judging the wine before they've even had a sip or put their nose in the glass! It's frustrating.
BCD – maybe for them potential alcohol content is an important factor? :)
BCD, what bugged me the most about *that particular tasting room phenomenon was when the guest in question was attempting to "teach" someone else about wine (usually, in actuality, trying to impress someone they'd brought)
Matt – in that case, we might be morally obligated to pimpslap them…
Patrons who do not know better asking for an ice bucket when the white wine is already very cold.
Why do they want to suck on Chardonnay icicles? As a former sommelier, I tell people to drink red wine a bit cooler and white a bit warmer.
Marlene – Chardonnay-cicles… might be on to a product opportunity there…
Cork sniffes! Be gone! Nope, you're points are all valid. Anybody displays that kind of activity or your other three points is usually when activate my Boy Scout mode and try to help the old lady across the street. If I'm in a good mood. Most of the time, though, it's cause for immediate banishment.
BC – banishment? As in Old Testament gnashing of teeth style? :-)
Just have to say, LOVE Wined Down.
….And have officially (and accidentally) been banned from New York Public Library computers for trying to view a blocked site too many times LOL
Laura – thanks! And sorry that I got you on their "naughty" list! :-)
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