As the year turns, I always get a little introspective. I’m another year older, I wonder if my accomplishments this last year were enough, I think about my mistakes and if I learned anything from them, I look at the how I’ve used the tools around me and think about what kinds of things would make my life easier. Maybe it’s part after Christmas blues- did I get what I really wanted/ did I even know what I really wanted? Maybe it’s part dread about growing older- am I where I thought I’d be or even anywhere close? Typically at some point during this introspection, I turn to my liquor cabinet for solace. And solace I find- a stash of liquor and wine that’s big enough to be called a stash but not so big to be called a mine, shot glasses, rocks glasses, openers, stoppers, preservers and other industry swag that makes most people’s eyes go up just a little. I just call it the Liquor Cabinet. Over the years, I’ve collected (and disposed of) quite a share of gadgets. I look in the Liquor Cabinet with both amazement and desire.
There’s a wine rack in the Liquor Cabinet. It holds nine bottles. It’s my impromptu gauge of quality of wine I have on hand. I figure if I have to think twice about opening a particular bottle of wine, that bottle should be lying down. If I get excited about opening a bottle when a friend comes over, that bottle should be lying down, too. If I had a bad day and I’ll be happy opening anything, then maybe that bottle doesn’t need to be lying down. It just needs to be close to the door.
A collection of glasses is also close to the door. There are a few shot glasses that I’ve collected or that have been given to us from our friends’ travels. I prefer the shorter, fatter ones to the taller, skinnier ones, but maybe that’s just because I tend to get clumsier as more shots are poured. I have a few rocks glasses because there’s nothing better than whiskey and ice when I’m not drinking wine. I even have a box that holds eight beautifully colored brandy snifter glasses that a friend brought back from Italy for me. I don’t use them very often since I’m not a huge digestif (an after dinner drink that is high in alcohol that supposedly helps digest the meal) fan, but I do think of that friend when I see the box and feel special when I do bring them out. I also have one very nice wine decanter. I don’t use that very often either, but it sure looks nice full of wine on the dining room table full of food and surrounded by friends. Decanters are nice when you know you’re going to finish the bottle of wine or you know the wine will improve with a little open air time. Bigger wines like cabernet sauvignon or syrah and wines that have sediment are both candidates for the decanter. The big wines will soften around the edges presenting flavors that aren’t there right out of the bottle, and the little sediment present in unfiltered or older wines settles with a little time spent decanting.
I have all kinds of stoppers and openers in the Liquor Cabinet, but there are only two that I cannot live without. The sparkling wine stopper is a must have. Most times I just stuff the cork back in still wines, but the bubbles will pop that right out, plus the cork that comes in a sparkling wine bottle doesn’t go back in without a little whittling. The sparkling stopper has a sort of hinge that brings it down tight around the lip of the bottle so even with the pressure that builds from the carbon dioxide, there is a sort of anchor holding the stopper to the bottle. The other must have is the double hinged corkscrew. There are so many styles of corkscrews out there it’s downright confusing. With years of messing around with them, here are my conclusions.
The cheap pocket corkscrew that has a sheath hiding the screw or worm is hideous. There is no chance for leverage, and the worm is usually so cheap it bends easily with a stuck cork. The winged corkscrew is just plain awkward for me. Somehow you have to balance this tall cylinder onto the bottle without holding the wings while you push down and twist. The wings fly up the more you twist. Then you hope the worm is in the cork straight when you push the wings down and bring up the cork. The idea of leverage is there, but for me the execution is excruciating. The waiter’s corkscrew is second best because most of the elements are there, but the double hinged corkscrew is top dog for me. The cutter for stuck-on foil is there, and the hinge has a two step angle that makes all the difference. Instead of having to take the whole bite of leverage in one step, you only take half with the handy first step which is key to loosening that grip on stubborn corks. Another corkscrew that hits the top of my list doesn’t even have a worm. Called a two pronged wine pull, Ah So or Ah Super, it has two prongs, one slightly longer than the other, on top of an oval grip. You insert the prongs between the cork and the bottle and rock it back and forth while pulling the cork out. These are especially good for old corks that would crumble with a regular worm. I’ve heard you can also reverse the operation and put the cork back in, but who would want to do that?
There are a couple of upscale models worth mentioning. The Rabbit and the Houdini are like winged corkscrews that are modernized, totally acceptable and incredibly cool to me. They look rather odd and are not small by any means. There are many models of the Rabbit and Houdini in addition to other brands that use similar techniques but the premise is approximately the same with all of them. By squeezing two levers together around the bottle, the grip is more ergonomical and easy. The vertically swinging lever starts in the down position. When you lift it up, the worm is inserted into the cork, and, when you bring the lever back down, it pops the cork out. After releasing the bottle, another lift up with the lever releases the cork. There are also electric and gas powered openers that use a small gas cylinder to displace the air inside the bottle in addition to the worm and pop the cork with the push of a button. These are probably the easiest to use on the market since the gas does all the work, but since you have to buy the cylinders to make the opener work, I prefer ones that require only a little muscle and maintenance.
Preservers. I still haven’t found any that I can’t live without so I either finish the bottle or stick it in the fridge. Putting leftover red wine in the refrigerator sounds ludicrous, but I’ve found that it works best for me. Take it out about a half an hour before you want to drink it or pour a little into your glass to wet your lips while the rest of the bottle comes up to room temperature and you’ve got leftover wine. Just like leftover dinner, most wines aren’t as good the second time around, but there are always a few exceptions. I’ve found that I’ll drink leftover white wine for a few days, but leftover red wine still has an expiration of the day I open it plus one and, if I’m lucky, two. Call me a snob, I don’t care.
The crowning jewel of the Liquor Cabinet is my Vinturi. The Vinturi is an aerator or a gadget that allows air to come into contact with the wine, thus opening up those flavors that are missing straight out of the bottle. Basically it does the same thing a decanter does but in the time it takes to pour the wine into your glass. The Vinturi is a hollow handheld ovoid piece of crystal with holes drilled into the sides.
As you pour the wine through the Vinturi, air is sucked in through the holes and it makes the wine bubble into your glass. It doesn’t improve every wine, but for those bigger wines that improve in the decanter, it is heaven in your hand. There are two kinds of Vinturi- one for white and one for red. I only have the one made for red wine.
Like most gadgets, they aren’t all necessary. Truth be told, a corkscrew is the only one that’s really necessary, and even then, there are some messy ways to get around that one. Gadgets sure make it fun, though. Add fun to something that’s fun already and my world is complete. Gadgets also make wine easier. The amount of leverage available in a corkscrew makes popping the cork easier, wine charms make your glass easier to find at a party, the Vinturi makes hard to drink wines easier to drink. The list goes on but the summation always comes back to the same thing: who doesn’t want tools to make their life easier? Cheers to a Happy New Year.
Selene Alice Wayne writes from her home in Puna.