So You Want To Be A Waiter

The best book on waiting tables that you have never read – yet

Wine topic of the day – corks and screwtops

Steve at Waiter Extraordinaire was musing about corks vs. screwtops. Seems his cherry was popped when he got his first “corked” bottle from a screwtop.

Screwtops, a.k.a. Stelvin closures, are said to be the thing that will eliminate most cases of wine spoilage. TCA, or 2,4,6-trichloranisole, a compound that has caused a few California wineries to have to toss out large portions of some of their bottlings and is primarily responsible for the “wet cardboard” smell of corked wine, can be almost eliminated by going to the Stelvin closure.

However, this isn’t entirely true. Obviously, wine can be contaminated at various stages of manufacture. Cork taint isn’t the only problem that can occur in wine. wine can be “maderized”, or basically oxidized in the bottle. You can tell this as an unnatural cloyingly sweet flavor in wines that shouldn’t be that way. It might remind you of port, a flavor that’s great if you’re drinking port, but not if you’re drinking a big cab.

Wine can have an overly sulphuric aroma and flavor. Wines can be “skunky”, which is the result of thiols.

There are many so-called ‘wine taints” not directly associated with corks. Wikipedia has a good article on them that can be useful for every waiter to at least skim:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wine_fault

Here’s an interesting article that briefly covers some of the problems that can occur in the physical plant itself:

http://www.fst.vt.edu/extension/enology/EN/94.html

Obviously, most of us waiters prefer the cork. It’s part and parcel of the ceremony of wine. It invests wine with an additional value due to the skill that’s required to remove the cork (a skill easily and quickly learned, I might add). There’s history behind the cork, and the cork adds a tactile element as the guest can pick it up, examine it, squeeze it to test it and handle it occasionally through the meal if he or she desires. There’s also a marketing angle on the cork as most are marked with the name of the vintner. It also allows the guest to become part of the QC process if they know a lot about wine because the cork can tell you some things about the wine that you’re getting ready to experience. and there’s just something primal and somewhat sensual about a cork from a red wine that has been aged a bit – the cork itself is starting to be pliant, and there might be a dark burgundy tip with some earthy-looking deposits formed on the end. It brings home the living and evolving nature of the wine, something you just don’t get with a screwtop.

And, let’s face it, there’s already a portion of the dining public, and some “tip advisors” that say that it’s ok not to tip on expensive bottles of wine (which is, of course, total bullshit).  Screwtops give them even more reason to discount tipping on wine. They say, “How hard is it to open a screwtop bottle and pour it”, forgetting of course that you might very well ask, “How hard is it to carry a plate and put it on the table”? Or, “How hard is it to open a beer bottle and pour it”? (I’m going to deal with this whole “tipping on wine” think in a future rant).

Screwtops are bloodless and lack flair. It’s no different opening a bottle of wine than opening a bottle of Perrier. And what do you do with the cap? The guest has been conditioned to take a cork – sometimes there’s a bit of uncomfortableness between guest and waiter. It can be just a touch awkward in these early days of screwtops. I recommend that the waiter simply puts the top on the table in case the guest needs to take some of the bottle home. This of course is awkward from a table busing standpoint. The waiter and the server assistant have to be careful not to bus it. I’m not sure that there is a standard established regarding the handling of the top. This would be my suggestion – bring out a B&B (bread and butter plate) to set the top on. If it’s clear that the whole bottle is going to be poured, simply pocket the cap and remove the B&B. If it’s unclear, then leave it on the B&B until it’s clear that it won’t be used. As always, house policy trumps any advice that I give here.

My opinion about the screwtop? If it means that less wine gets destroyed because of cork taint, I’m all for it. It’s not clear how much advantage a cork makes in aging over a screwtop (research has shown that it’s not much). For the bulk of wines that are served in restaurants, cork will make absolutely no difference because most restaurant wines are served within a handful of years anyway.

What is lost is a little of the ceremony, the mystery, the…shall I say it?…soul of the wine experience. It cheapens it a little, but let’s remember that, in the end, what we’re looking for is the quality of the wine.

If i sound wishy-washy, perhaps I am. I love the opening of the cork. I enjoy it in and of itself and it just feels strange to crack a screwtop. but that’s because it’s a new thing, I suppose. I don’t mind having to take the time to cut the capsule just right, line up my corkscrew just so in order to keep from tearing the cork on the sides (and I’m not always successful), present the cork, etc. Sure it’s time away from doing other things, but as wine is usually a good portion of my sales, it’s time well-spent and time where I get to show a little expertise, although I don’t make a huge production of it.

Advertisements

3 responses to “Wine topic of the day – corks and screwtops

  1. waiterextraordinaire January 13, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    Nice post. You covered everything.

  2. nativenapkin January 19, 2010 at 11:48 am

    According to the Court of Master Sommeliers, the screwcap should never be left on the table, corks should be left only on guests’ request. I personally think corks are trash and should be removed as you would an empty sugar packet or wine bottle.

    People have such a romantic connection to the wine opening ceremony that these are service points that, as you correctly point out, should be established as a policy of the house as they see fit.

    I always remove the cork/screwcap and keep it in my pocket until the table has left. That way, knowing that many people will ask for it for any number of reasons, I won’t be rolling up my sleeves to fish through the trash at the scullery station.

    • teleburst January 19, 2010 at 2:50 pm

      Thanks for the info.

      For those of us who work where people can take their wine with them, I suppose that we could simply make sure that we have a cork available that we could use to cork a bottle with a screwtop in case the table doesn’t finish it. That way, we could just trash the top immediately. Obviously, the guest isn’t going to examine the top. The cork is a little different simply because I’ve found that some people either like to keep the cork for their own purposes or they like to play with it. I try to get rid of it at least by the entree course if it’s obvious that the guest isn’t interested in it for sentimental reasons or because they’re building a corktop table with all of the corks from the wines that they have drunk (don’t laugh, I’ve seen it!)

      I know that, according to the most strict wine service, a cork is never to hit the table. It should be placed on a specially made pewter small coaster (the technical name of which escapes me at the moment), or it should be put on a B&B. However, most restaurants don’t have the first and few require the second. So, frankly, I don’t worry about the cork being on the tablecloth because, most of the time, I’ve handed the cork to the guest and they’re the ones who put it down.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: