July 15, 2012

Wine Paraphernalia

- as published in the Winter 2011/12 edition of Footprints magazine.

Have you taken the time to stroll through the glassware section of your local department store recently? Located somewhere amidst the sea of crystal decanters, etched serving trays, and dinnerware designed by that abrasive guy from Hell’s Kitchen, undoubtedly you will stumble upon a display of the latest in wine paraphernalia.  I thought it might be worthwhile to address a few of these unusual gizmos and gadgets before you file them into the re-gift cabinet for future reference.  I should also commend the courageous few who do manage to manipulate said contraptions with some degree of precision, which incidentally are somehow designed to make your wine imbibing experience all the more pleasurable.

Just the other day, a friend asked for my opinion on the use of the Wine Vinturi.  For those unfamiliar, the Vinturi is not only a play on words, but a futuristic looking funnel designed to rapidly aerate the contents of the bottle.  Before I begin, let me also highlight that I unstop a bottle the traditional way – without exception.  In fact, as far as wine service goes, I’d be better off in a society that existed a hundred years ago.  In my opinion, there is an art to opening a bottle correctly and thus I tend to avoid the use of such technological items of convenience; not that I intend to steer you in any particular direction.  But service goes beyond simply popping the cork and pouring the contents for your guests.  Perhaps you also believe in the magic of the moment?  Not card tricks, top hats, and stereotypical hocus-pocus nonsense, but the transformation from one form to another. Amidst the brief and sporadic moments of sarcasm between these lines, that is exactly where the focus of this article lies.

The Vinturi funnel exists for the simple reason that people wish to expedite the breathing time necessary to enjoy certain bottles of wine.  And that is fine, I guess, but I find myself asking:  why the need to rush the process?  Proper decanting of the bottle will accomplish exactly the same thing and if you adequately cellar the wine for a reasonable length of time, significant aeration is not necessary.  Furthermore, use of venturi type funnels can become habitual and in some cases inappropriate, as with older bottles that require a touch of care.  Think back to the occasions when you placed your thumb on a garden hose:  restricting the cross sectional area of the hose causes the fluid to rapidly accelerate and become turbulent – that is the venturi effect, which works great when you need to reach the Geraniums in the hanging basket on the veranda, but are you sure you really want that enforce that same degree of persuasion upon your wine?

I’ll admit that contraptions like the Wine Vinturi do have a place: dinner on a Friday night with minimal time for preparation where decanting a bottle two hours before the meal is simply not possible is one such place.  But what if you actually wanted to age the wine, to taste as though it had aged for say, five years?  How convenient would that be?  Well friends, they’ve got a product for that too.  At first the concept was a small stone-like object placed in the base of the decanter, some sort of mineral that scientifically reacted with the wine to create the illusion of age.  Now that same product looks like a thermometer that you simply dip into the bottle and presto – five seconds equal five years of age – well sort of, it’s a little more complicated than that but the tool, known as a Clef du Vin is quite revolutionary as an indicator of a wine ageing potential.  Though I can’t help but wonder:  by using these products, are we also stripping the wine of its soul?   

In Spain’s great Rioja region, winemakers delay the release of their prized gran reservas for a minimum of five years.  During this time, regulation states that two years must be spent aging the wine in oak, though in reality, many Spanish bodegas use these parameters only as a minimum.  Marqués de Murrieta for example encased their 1970 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva in oak casks for an astonishing 26 years prior to bottling.   I enjoyed this wine in 2010 with my wife on her 40th birthday.   As we drew the cork from the bottle the room filled with aromas of dark fruit, soft leather, and an enticing spice – a spectacular wine if you ever have the opportunity.  The wood tames the tannic structure of the wine while adding an array of flavours and aromas to the final product.  This is done so that you, the consumer can enjoy these wines when they are bottled and subsequently released to the public.  The effort necessary to produce, store, and monitor these wines is tremendous and it is this unparalleled effort and dedication that results in such breathtaking characteristics in the wine.  Not that modern technology does not add to the purity of the wine, indeed we must embrace science and modern advancements in wine making but there is no substitute for experience and I dare say the same cannot be accomplished via some technological wiz-bang thingamajig. 

Unstopping the bottle is a matter of personal preference and with the number of corkscrew designs available, surely there is one for everyone’s style and taste.  Some are easier to use than others and we shouldn’t criticise any particular product too heavily, for they are all designed to get you to the wine with the utmost efficiency – except of course the thing that injects gas into the bottle to blow the cork out – not really convinced that it works on the principal of Newton’s Law; it might actually be Murphy’s.   I prefer the ‘waiter’s friend’ for most stoppers for its simple yet elegant principals.  On occasion I will also use the ‘dishonest butler’ – again, a touch old-school but when the cork is in poor condition or the table is in desperate need of a change in conversation, it has yet to fail me.  The story goes that many a butler have used to two pronged extractor to sample wares from the cellar, unbeknownst to the master of the house.  Not only will the two thin prongs remove the cork without damage, but they also make sliding the stopper back into the bottle a seamless exercise - James, you sly dog!

I’ll conclude by stating that in wine, patience is a virtue.  To enjoy the subtle complexity of the contents, your finest bottles should spend a few years by themselves.  Consider starting a collection.  By purchasing via two bottle lots as a minimum, preferable three; quality over quantity, you will amass an assortment of high quality labels to tuck away for enjoyment another day.  Cellaring wine is not only a highly addictive hobby, but an equally fascinating learning experience and with a few years left undisturbed, you’ll feel satisfied knowing that you alone have nurtured these bottles to perfection without the use of scientific stimulation. 

I am currently dusting off old bottles that we tucked away well over a decade ago only to find them in perfect drinking condition.  And as we pair these old treasures with friends, great food, and conversation, it is the soul of the wine that gracefully speaks to us from the glass.  You need only listen to hear the voice...



  1. Not only does the wine vinturi seem awkward and out of place during use, but it also makes a weird noise as the wine funnels through. We tried it a few times but now it just sits in the sideboard.
    I've never used the dishonest butler type opener, I must find one and give it a go!
    Really glad you still do this the old way Tyler - don't ever lose sight of the tradition.


    1. Thanks Anna. The dishonest butler is more commonly called an Ah-So cork puller. Great for extracting older corks btw. Typically $5-10 at most wine shops. I am on the hunt for an older example with a wooden handle - quite hard to find i'm finding...



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Tyler is a member of the Wine Writers' Circle of Canada and the Guild of Sommeliers. He writes about and reviews wine both online and via a variety of circulating publications. In 2009 Tyler founded North of 9 Fine Wine, a free public wine education resource where he publishes his Thoughts, Theory, and Recommendations. For additional vinous related information and learning, follow on Twitter @TylerOnWine