The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

How to Open a Wine Bottle With a Feather

| 36 Comments

After reaching my limit of emails that said, “So-and-so wants you to like a page on Facebook,” I finally got around to telling Facebook: STOP SENDING ME EMAIL. NO EMAIL EVER AGAIN. I HATE YOU. Oddly enough, this has resulted in me checking FB more than I used to, and so I saw this there:

So, odd fan question….I love the Dragaera novels, but I gotta ask: How is a feather used in serving wine? Is it an actual feather, or is there some kind of utensil named that? Is it just dipped in to check the consistency or temperature or something? I’ve tried searching for references and am coming up blank! Maybe it’s just a Dragaeran/Fenarian custom?”

I should let DDB answer this, because he’s the one who first told me about it  But never mind.  It is, in fact, something still done today, in the here and now, with very old bottles of wine (especially port) where one fears the cork has gone rotten. It came up when I was doing early worldbuilding, and decided that Cork Oak doesn’t grow on Dragaera–so what would they do? Cheap wine, of course, is filled with wax plugs. But what do you do with the good stuff? One reasonable answer is: After bottling, you melt the glass on top and seal it that way. But then, how do you open it? Here is the procedure:

Requirements: Ice water, feather, metal tongs (in fact, there are special tongs made for this, called, of course, port tongs), heat source (such as a brazier).

Heat the tongs. A lot. So they’re, like, really really hot.

Hold the tongs to the neck of the wine bottle until very hot.

Dip the feather in the ice water, and quickly circumscribe the neck of the bottle.

Remove the top of the bottle.

Here is a youtube video.

I’m kinda smug at how much of it I got right before seeing the video.

To quote the Flying Karamzov Brothers: And it’s just! that easy.

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

36 Comments

  1. After heating the glass, I wonder how long I have to run the feather around it? The trick is obviously way more impressive if no one sees the tongs.

    Also, it should probably be noted that: White wine needs to be chilled, and Red wine does not. So if you’re going to try this trick, it’s best to do it on something red.

  2. That’s really cool. It does *look* like magic.

  3. That’s out-of-proportion cool, but now I need to know what the deal is with the candle. He makes a special point of lighting it, but it doesn’t appear to play a role, other than being a lit candle.

  4. skzb

    Hmm. Don’t remember that scene.

  5. The candle is so he can easily see when the sediment starts coming out of the bottle; that’s when you stop.

    Interesting; that’s pretty much what I had figured was the method. though it took combining several of the books.

  6. The candle allows you to see through the bottle glass so you stop decanting when you see sediment in the neck of the bottle

  7. My industrial microbiology teacher said that corks do no particular good. People used to claim that they were better because they let the wine “breathe” through the cork. But that is nonsense.

    Well, but a nonsense explanation doesn’t mean they’re wrong. People used to say they seared their meat “to seal the juices in”. It did nothing to seal the juices in, but the meat tasted better anyway. But no, the same wine bottled with cork or sealed in glass or even a plastic cap made no difference that experts could taste, and no difference that scientists could measure. Vintners keep doing it because customers think of it as a sign of quality and think that wines without corks are low-quality wines that should be cheap.

    Wine bottles that are melted shut should be every bit as good for the wine as bottles with corks. Except that it probably is more effort to seal them that way (if you do have corks). And you probably can’t re-use the bottles.

    If my teacher was right, dragaerans don’t lose much in their wine by not having cork trees.

  8. skzb

    J. Thomas: Interesting indeed! Thanks.

  9. Okay, that video was really cool.

    Hey, do you remember what that one port was that we had? That one time? The one that wasn’t ruby or tawny?

  10. Heh, I’ve gotten some rotten corks lately on much younger bottles. I just opened a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue given as a gift — you know, you just pull or twist off the cap so it’s not anywhere close to as tight as the cork in a wine bottle — and the cork disintegrated, with broken bits falling right out of the cap into the whiskey. Very sad.

    You use a candle to illuminate the bottle while decanting so you can see the sediment — presumably in the absence of muslin.

  11. And if the bottle shape is right, you have a nice bottle neck slide for your guitar.

  12. skzb

    Jen: Yes, but I don’t remember what it was, except yummy. I should ask Liz.

  13. I was just trying to tell someone about it recently, but I couldn’t remember what exactly it was. But since I don’t remember who I was trying to tell, it won’t really help to learn now, I guess.

  14. This was something I have been wondering about every time I have encountered it in your books. I had, like the person you mentioned, wondered how this worked and whether or not it was an actual feather, and I really appreciate the explanation.

    And this principle is also the reason why my science teacher lost almost half the glass beakers during of one of the labs, since we heated the beakers up and then quite a few people rinsed them with cold water. (Although they were not supposed to probably for this very reason)

  15. Berry and Ian: Thanks!

  16. Really, cool. I remember wondering what the hell the procedure was involving tongs and a feather but I never suspected it was a real method. Figured it was just one of those things peculiar to Dragaera that had no tie to our world. As a port drinker and SKZB fan, I guess I should have known!

  17. Oh yeah, just tripped over an apt new Suzanne Vega song:

  18. Hey, you there, with the corkscrew! Let me borrow it for a sec? I’ll give you this nifty feather!

  19. skzb

    That made me laugh much more than it should have.

  20. You see? It is just that kind of historical detail that fills me with delight when I stumble across it in a well written book! And it is just that sort of fiendishly clever use of physics by people that had little or no formal understanding of its laws that gives me hope for the human race.

    Then I remember that they are just as clever at self-destruction and come back down to earth ;p

  21. jenphalian, the port you are thinking of is Petite Sirah Port by Bogle.

  22. I’m reminded of the time I was making lemonade and destroyed a pyrex measuring jug. We had one of the old school pre jug electric kettles, made of metal and shaped like a, well, shaped like a kettle. Exactly like this http://www.jhgs.bucks.sch.uk/SiteAssets/SitePages/Alumni/Kettle.jpeg. As I went to pour the boiling water onto the sugar and lemons the spout touched the jug. And it split neatly in two. I don’t think this was a feat I could have duplicated on purpose but it certainly made my mum angry.

  23. Hey, the edit countdown is cool.

  24. @Liz — yay, thank you!

    @ven crane — The edit countdown is nifty! Because the best spellcheck/proofreading device is hitting Post or Send.

  25. Huh. The more you know.

    Aaaand I’ve just been informed that under no circumstances am I allowed to try this at home. I never get to have any fun.

  26. Very cool! I always wondered about the feather as well. Thank you for sharing.

  27. Wow! And here I’d invented an entire science of removing wax corks using hot tongs that involves inserting the feather calamus first and letting the wax solidify on the barbs.

    I like this method much better. Mine tends to get wax in the wine.

  28. I always assumed you made up the tongs and feather just to make it sound silly. Amazing, I had no idea.

    That being said, I think I will continue to drink the Mead I brew from rubber-stoppered bottles. Much easier to open. 🙂

  29. They did this for us on a recent trip to Portugal. They made a point that the woman doing it was specially trained, and particularly in how to make sure no bits of glass gets into the wine. (Turns out I’m not a fan of aged port. I liked the white port better.)

  30. I guess filtering it through a cloth into the decanter takes care of the little bits of glass I’d expect to be unavoidably created.

    I doubt I will actually try this method (particularly because I’d have to locate appropriate tongs somewhere), but it seems worth practicing on empty bottles, then working one’s way up to Two Buck Chuck, before risking any of the good stuff.

  31. Don’t drink the dregs.

  32. Huh. That was beyond cool. I wonder if I can find any port tongs here in town…

  33. I always wanted to believe this was based on SOMETHING. My admiration for Pel is higher than ever.

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