The Wine Wise Guy gets to the bottom of bottle-top circumcision.
While waiting for my always-late dinner date at the convivially crowded bar at the newly-reopened Union Square Café in NYC one night last week, I decided to order a glass of wine, of course. But because I never, ever order from the by-the-glass list—by-the-glass bottles typically represent the highest profit margins for restaurants and the worst values for customers—I asked for the full wine list and ordered a whole bottle. In what seemed like two minutes, a voice very close to my ear announced in a low voice, “Domaine Jamet, Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2014.”
There, just behind me, stood sommelier Chris Struck, as if he’d just apparated up from the cellar to within inches of my shoulder. Despite being elbow to elbow with fellow imbibers, Struck comported himself with full-regulation sommelier aplomb, holding the bottle label-side up in one hand while pointing to producer name and vintage with the other. Then he flicked open the blade of his wine opener and made three swift, smooth swipes, cutting the foil capsule below the second lip of the bottle, then pulling off the cap and putting it in his pocket.
That’s when a guy nearby offered this unsolicited quip: “Steady hands—he’d make a great mohel!”
That made me recall a hilarious vintage Saturday Night Live fake commercial for the 1978 Royal Deluxe II, in which a mohel performs a flawless circumcision as the car goes over potholes, proving the vehicle has perfect suspension. But it also got me thinking about the party my wife and I threw this past New Year’s Eve, and how all thirty guests seemed to arrive within five minutes of each other. As is my duty, I began offering glasses of wine as fast as I could pour them, pulling entire foil capsules off the bottles with one swift yank, or, for stickier ones, slashing them from bottom to top and then ripping them off quickly. More than one guest asked, “Can you actually do that?” as if I’d broken a sacred rule.
Guess what: When it comes to wine, there are no sacred rules.
Anyway, during that dinner at Union Square, I asked my waiter if I could chat with Chris Struck about this whole foil thing. In an instant, he again apparated tableside—it was a little uncanny. When I asked him if he cut his foils with such precision even when no one was looking, he flushed and said, “I've never really reflected on that before…I think as a matter of habit I still ‘circumcise’ the foil, even at home, and especially on the first bottle.” But then he confessed that by the “seventh or eighth bottle, especially when circling back to Champagne, I’m sabering—and the foil's coming off as quickly as possible so I can get to the task at hand.” I thought, seventh or eighth bottle? Lord, I envy the young.
But here’s the net-net. You can do whatever you want with your capsule, cut it as neatly as a master sommelier or rip it off with your teeth; it’s your call. But, despite Saturday Night Live’s example, I might extend one cautionary note against performing bottle circumcision while driving.