Dining out is not just about food and wine.
I approach it gestalt-like, experiencing the entirety of the event including the ambience of the restaurant, the demeanor of the personnel, the quality of the food and how it is presented, the wine bottle’s label design, and how the bottle is handled.
Few people worry about such things. But when you are asked to pay three times the retail cost of a bottle of wine for the privilege of consuming it with a meal, service counts. And that includes how the waiter treats the bottle.
One of the worst aspects of wine service, for me, occurs when a server removes the entire capsule from the bottle and then takes away the cork.
The capsule and cork are part of the show, images that the winery wishes to display as part of its full dress. Without the capsule, the bottle appears naked. It’s like the Mona Lisa missing a tooth.
Many wineries hire expensive design consultants to create an image that is best displayed by how the bottle looks. This includes the capsule.
Walter Landor and Associates in San Francisco, one of the top product-design companies in the world, has created hundreds of package designs, including wine bottles and their capsules.
A quality capsule completes the package’s dress.
Ridge Vineyards has long used a short, unadorned silver capsule familiar to its loyal buyers. J. Lohr uses a black capsule with a golden top and gold stripe. Williams Selyem uses its traditional plain burgundy capsule.
For a waiter to simply strip the capsule off the next of the bottle is an abominable act equivalent to Queen Elizabeth wearing Levi’s.
And removal of the cork from the table likewise fails the consumer because there is no tactile sense of how the wine maker dealt with the critical decision of how to seal the bottle.
As to corks: A few years ago, we opened a 25-year-old bottle of Angelo Gaja Barbaresco. It was absolutely perfect, thanks in part to the fact that Gaja had chosen to use the world’s best corks, which were long and pristine.
At the time, they were ludicrously expensive; few wineries could afford to do the same.
Today, however, there are some alternative closures that are not only near-perfect, but cost little in relationship to the best natural corks.
Nomacorc and Diam are alternative-closure competitors, both of them providing good closures for a lot less money than ever before. Both have been successful to the point that it has hurt the natural cork industry.
Nomacorc, in particular, has done an outstanding job providing the industry with a clean-looking, cork-like closure for under 10 cents each that is completely impervious to the moldy aromatics of cork taint.
That’s because Nomacorc uses the fibrous material from sugarcane as its raw material. Because it is mostly non-tree based, it can’t harbor the chemical TCA that creates a corky smelling the wine.
The company announced last week that it’s going completely green. It will shortly be 100 percent plant-based.
I have looked carefully at closures for years, and I like the way Nomacorcs function. Even at its low price, Nomacorc appears to be a quality choice by wineries using it.
And it’s nice to look at while you are being served your ceremonial pour.
Removal of the cork and capsule from the table should be of major concern to all wineries who are concerned about the image that their bottle presents in restaurants.
I’m surprised that no winery I know of does education in restaurants to strongly encourage its personnel to treat both cork and capsule with utmost respect.
Wine of the Week: 2015 Coppola Rosso and Bianco Pinot Grigio, California ($13): The attractive varietal aroma has peaches and a subtle spice note. The soft appealing entry leads to excellent mid-palate fruit and a balanced finish. Great for patio sipping or serving with appetizers. Often seen at about $10. It was tasted side-by-side with three other similarly priced Pinot Grigios, all of which were quite good. This one tasted better when extremely well chilled.