Anthony Blackburn: The Ritual of Table Service

This is a bulletin, brought to you by Anthony Blackburn, student in Paul Wagner’s Cultural Appreciation of Wine class, at Napa Valley College.

This bulletin is to inform you, the wine consumer, about the importance and ritual of service. Particularly wine service.

Part of the beauty of wine is the experience it brings. Not just the aroma, taste, texture or color. But also, the people you share it with, the place you consume it, the celebrations toasted with it. A fun part of the experience of wine, for many people, is the “Ritual of Service”. This is presentation of the wine, to the consumer, by wait staff or a sommelier at a restaurant.

This was the subject of a recent lecture in my Cultural Appreciation of Wine class.

There was a consensus by the class that excellent service begins with a “connection’ being made by the wait staff and the consumers. As Paul Wagner, my instructor stated, “The Consumers and Staff are all involved in a “Play”. For the “Play” to be successful, everyone just needs to understand their roles.”

That being said, the ritual of table service has it roots in the Roman dinners and Greek Symposia of 20 centuries ago. (You can read more about Greek Symposiums in my early blogs.)

As many of us know, ordering wine is only just slightly less scary that speaking in public. We are on the spot. The choice has to be right. Will that Chardonnay that is slightly oaked and that has just a slight hint of old dusty burlap go well with the asparagus Auntie Flem ordered?

How do we choose who orders the wine for the table? is it:

Everyone leaves to use the facilities. The one person left at the table is shouldered with that responsibility.
Give it to the person who looks the most knowledgeable.
The best dressed person
The Host
The person who has the most money

Heck, let’s just put the wine list in the middle of the table and draw straws.

And of course, you drew the short straw. But you, smart reader, know what you are doing, right?

Because you think that slightly oaked Chardonnay that has just a slight hint of dusty burlap goes well with, not only Auntie Flem’s asparagus, but the rest of the diner’s meals, you go ahead and order it.

Now starts the Ritual of Table Service. Places, everyone!

The wait person (notice how politically correct I am? That is so unlike me.) presents the bottle of 2005 Golden Calf Chardonnay from Bakersfield you ordered. Yes, the one that got 68 points from Robert Parker. You are a shrewd oenophile, aren’t you?

The presentation is important. The bottle is held, tilted slight backward and supported at the bottom by the server. The label is facing toward you. Look to make sure the vintage is the same 2005 as your ordered.

Nod your head in approval of the wine.

The server cuts the foil with their wine opener. A proper wine opener has 4 main parts. A handle, a foil knife, a corkscrew and a lever, preferably a hinged, two piece lever.

The foil is cut just BELOW the collar of the wine bottle. Several reasons why. The foil will not touch and contaminate the wine. The wile will not be unduly aerated by running over the edge of the cut foil. Drips are mitigated by this cut position as well.

A property server always holds the bottle, label facing the customer, through this oenological surgery.

The server then deftly and swiftly slips the piece of foil into a pocket. Preferably their own.

With one hand, the server closes the foil knife tool and opens the corkscrew.

The corkscrew is started at a 45 degree angle, into the cork. As the corkscrew bites into the top of the cork, the corkscrew is straightened so that it goes straight down into the cork. The screw is turned until it breaks through the bottom of the cork. this relieves the vacuum in the seal, making the cork easier to pull out.

The lever is seated on the rim of the bottle and the end of the handle is pulled upward. If physics are properly, the cork will be pulled out.

Just in case you needed to know, this lever action is called a “Second Class Lever”. In a second class lever the input effort is located at the end of the bar and the fulcrum is located at the other end of the bar, opposite to the input, with the output load at a point between these two forces.

This all just means “Use the corkscrew properly.”

The cork is unscrewed from the corkscrew and is NOT given to the patron. The cork should just be set on the table. There is no need to smell the cork. Normally one smells the cork to detect a bad cork. Simply tasting the wine will tell you this, if it is indeed the case.

With one hand, the wait person folds the corkscrew and slips it into a pocket.

Again, preferably their own.

Now,you get a 1 ounce pour of your 2005 Golden Calf Chardonnay from Bakersfield. Yes, your 68 pointer.

Look for flaws his point. Is the wine corked? Is it what you ordered? Is it being served at the proper temperature?

If your wine is indeed what your expectation was, then approve the bottle and the wait person will pour for the table.

Enjoy that Bako 2005 Chard.

Anthony Blackburn is a student at Napa Valley College in the Viticulture and Winery Technology Department. He is also the Student Sales and Marketing Intern responsible for selling the wines made by the students in the student winery. Student of the Grape at Napa Valley College Soccer Player (Goal Keeper) Wine Maker (In my own mind) Facebook Ho (Friend Me!) Motorcycle Rider (Kawasaki ZZR1200)