Opening wine with the Ah-So
But as I've said before, when it comes to getting the cork out of the bottle, nothing suits me better than the simple "waiter's model" that resembles a pocket knife, with a sturdy pry bar at one end to help lever out the cork once you've inserted the screw.
Today however, let's take a look at the corkscrew without a screw: Every now and then, there's no substitute for the two-pronged model, the flat extractor with two metal blades that you work down the sides of the cork, then twist gently to pull it out. Sometimes called "Ah-So" after the trademarked name of the chrome-plated model made by Monopol in Germany, it's also known as "the thieving butler" because, at least in legend, unscrupulous servers can use it to pour expensive wine out of the bottle, replace it with cheaper stuff, and reinsert the undamaged cork so their evil deed goes undetected.
I don't use the Ah-So often, for a couple of reasons. First, unless you practice and use it with care, you can easily shove the cork INTO the bottle, making a pluperfect mess. And I don't like the way it squeaks and strains when it encounters an unusually tight cork, raising the possibility that the bottle neck might shatter in my hands.
But from time to time you need an Ah-So to get the job done when other systems fail. Like last night, when the fragile cork in a 1990 South African Cabernet (from Le Bonheur in Simonsig) proved more than a match for the waiter's model. The cork was too far gone to hold the screw, which pulled a soft, crumbly mass from the center, leaving a fragile shell of cork stuck in the bottle neck. Out came the Ah-So, and a quick twirl later, all was well. (And the wine, happily, was good.)
I still won't use this every day. But I would no more be without one in the house than I would drive without a spare tire.
the Rhone and Provence
Early next summer, I will lead a seven-day journey through the southern Rhone Valley and Provence. For this project, WineLoversPage.com joins with French Wine Explorers, a high-quality American tour company that specializes in wine tours of France.
Lauriann Greene and Jean-Pierre Sollin, sommeliers-conseil (degreed wine professionals) who live in France, will join me to present this tour. Lauriann and Jean-Pierre take a down-to-earth, plain-talk approach to wine, sharing my commitment to make the often daunting world of wine simple and to take the mystery out of it in a friendly, non-snob environment that's equally welcoming to wine novices and advanced experts.
With Lauriann, an American who lives in France and is fluent in French, as our translator, we'll spend a week of in-depth exploration of the wines of these two beautiful regions, with extensive tastings, elegant hotels and excellent restaurants. We're planning winery visits, tastings and interviews with wine makers of some of the best producers in Gigondas, Beaumes-de-Venise, the Cotes du Rhone, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Lirac, Tavel, Baux-de-Provence, Coteaux du Luberon and one of my favorites, Bandol, where we will visit the stunning mountaintop property Domaine de Pibarnon, whose excellent red wine I reviewed in yesterday's edition. With all the wine, there'll still be time for visits to Roman ruins and romantic chateaux, and a "gala" dinner along the way in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
The trip begins and ends in Paris, with high-speed TGV train connections; and those who wish may extend their stay with a two-night extension in Paris, touring the city on your own by day, and hitting interesting wine bars and restaurants with your guides in the evening.
The tour will be June 11 through 17, 2002; it is strictly limited to 16 guests. I'll be posting more information about it soon on WineLoversPage.com, but you can learn more today (or even make a reservation) on the French Wine Explorers' Website, http://www.wine-tours-france.com/RhoneProvence.htm; or send E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 1-877-261-1500 (toll-free in the U.S. & Canada) to request a reservation form.
If you're worried about overseas travel in these troublesome times, I would be happy to tell you about my experiences traveling from the U.S. to Italy and back last week. Feel free to drop me a note at email@example.com if you would like to discuss this or ask questions about the tour. I would be delighted to meet a group of you in France next year!
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Thursday, Oct. 18, 2001