Back That Glass Up

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Even the tools somms use have become works of art, as manufacturers delve into the details of the design and mate- rials that make them. (Photo by Theme Photos on Unsplash)

Craftsmen like to say that “you are only as good as the tools you use.” Some marketers have used this wisdom, but true artisans take it to heart, having pride in the nuances behind their tools. These are the instruments that they use to make their living and ply their trade. Even the tools themselves become pieces of art, as manufacturers delve into the details of the design and the materials that make them. This is not only true for those that build and create, but also for those that serve.

Any sommelier who takes pride in their work will give you a very detailed description, maybe even too detailed a description, of which waiter’s corkscrew (a.k.a. wine key) they prefer to use to open bottles. Each sommelier will give you their definitive preference in glassware, decanters and even pour spouts, if you ask them. Most sommeliers are highly detailed, so it makes sense that they would pour over every detail of their trade.

With all due respect to the wine glass, wine keys are by far the most important tool to a sommelier. Somms get freaky when you start talking about wine keys. There are hundreds of possibilities for a wine key, such as the complex matrix of manufacturers and materials used to make them, but the design is standard. It must have a knife to cut the foil, a worm and flange to extract the cork and some notch to open a bottle cap (mostly used for beer). La Coutale is a unique manufacturer that has a patent on an interesting design for the wine key, where instead of pulling on the key to extract the cork, one pushes downward and, in the process, uses less force. I rarely see working somms use them, but they certainly exist.

Perhaps the most popular wine key producer in the sommelier trade is made by high-end luxury French cutlery brand Laguiole. It takes its name from the village of Laguiole in the Aveyron department of France. They have an almost cult-like following, producing some of the finest cutlery and most beautiful corkscrews on the planet. They use fine materials, such as exotic horns, precious wood, cool resins, and also have some of the most elaborate engraving on any waiter’s corkscrew. They can also be customized via printing or engraving options, making them truly bespoke. They are true works of art, and are hoarded by many sommeliers, as if a collectable bottle of wine. (They can certainly cost as much.)

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