Opening wine: You are dining out; you've ordered a great bottle of wine. So, how does the sommelier go about extracting the cork from the bottle? And what is the mystique about the ritual?
The first understanding is that the wine must be treated with respect; this is increasingly so with expensive and older wines, especially those that may have sediment. The last thing you want to do is disturb what is in the bottle and mix the sediment with the wine.
The first requirement when opening wine is a good corkscrew (tire buchon, in French); one that has two stepped stages or ridges to it, and a small blade for cutting the foil; these are sometimes referred to as sommelier knives. Once you have your own corkscrew, guard it jealously, and don’t share it.
Opening wine: Why do restaurants ask you to taste the wine?
Firstly, the restaurant will assume you know what you’re ordering, but unless you are trained in wine tasting techniques and have a good palate the probability is that you won’t be able to contest what it says on the label. So, you are not tasting it to see if you like it. You may be tasting it to ensure that it hasn't turned sour, but that’s unlikely to happen with other than the oldest of wines.
No, actually, you’re not ‘tasting’ the wine at all (although you can, of course). Let the sommelier pour a little in your glass; only the person who ordered the wine should be invited to taste it. They, of course, can defer to someone else.
Then you swirl it around, ideally keeping the glass in touch with the table rather than lift it in the air; this is to allow the aroma of the wine to rise. Next, stick your nose into the glass. If there is a slight musty smell, the wine has’ corked’, i.e. reacted with the cork, and is undrinkable, and should be replaced. Otherwise, accept the wine without actually tasting it.
It necessarily follows, that if the wine doesn't have a cork, i.e. it has a screw cap, then it can’t be corked. So, there is probably no need whatsoever to do anything other than allow the waiter to pour it.
When opening wine, using a decanter to pour wine into, especially red wine, is a great way to liberate the qualities of the wine. Bear in mind that the wine has been cooped up in that bottle for a number of years, and will benefit from stretching its legs, so to speak. So, decanting is the way to do this. Don’t be afraid of asking for red wines in particular to be decanted.
Ideally, this, too, should be done at table, so that you know for sure that the wine you ordered is the wine that goes into the decanter. High end restaurants would never try to pull a fast one; but lower down the chain, you can’t always be sure…and you want to be sure.
When the wine is being decanted the sommelier will do so steadily, keeping an eye on the shoulder of the bottle because this is where any sediment, if it is present, will gather. You don’t want that sediment in your decanter; so if the sommelier appears to be leaving wine in the bottle, it’s for a good reason.
Opening wine: Many sommeliers and wine waiters pour the wine while holding the bottle with their thumb in the hollow base, and supporting the bottle with the rest of their hand. This is (arguably) a bit affected, and done for show. There is nothing wrong, and much to be preferred, with taking a firm grip on the bottle, and pouring it with confidence, even to the extent of supporting the neck with your free hand, possibly holding a napkin to catch any drips.
Never fill a wine glass, whatever the wine, more than half way. You want the aroma of the wine to develop, and to appreciate it. Overfilling a glass isn’t going to give it the room to do this. With the large bulbous glasses often used for red wine, fill to no more than one-third.