Can you guess how many times a sommelier at a fine restaurant or wine bar pulls corks on a busy day?
Fifty is not unusual if the sommelier performs wine service for all the waitstaff.
And do you know how fast those plastic wine keys, aka corkscrews, break or leave rough edges on the neck foil that nick a server’s fingers? It happens a lot, expecially if the blade is serrated.
In fact, the sorry state of cheap plastic waiter’s corkscrews, which servers get free from distributors or wineries, or perhaps puchase at a party store, sparked Australian Jeff Toering to do something about it.
He invented a better corkscrew, the Code38, a reference to “dress code” as in fashionable and professional, and to his age when he came up with the concept.
“I had a friend in the restaurant business in Sydney,” Toering said on a recent visit to Detroit. “The wine keys kept disintegrating in servers’ hands. I would see beautiful bottles opened by the cheapest of wine keys. ‘These people need a more professional tool,’ I said.”
Prices for Toering’s finely engineered wine key start at $225 and rise to $450 for the Stealth model. Customers are equally divided between sommeliers and wine enthusiasts.
“I like the build quality; it’s apparent when you hold it; it’s solid and durable,” says Chaad Thomas, wine director for seven years at Paesano in Ann Arbor and now a partner in Ann Arbor’s U.S. Wine Imports, the only supplier of Code38s in the country.
The Code38 is made of high-grade stainless steel that is molded by a special injection process used to make small, intricate products like Swiss watches. The spiral, or helix (the screw), is forged in France. The device has sturdy hinges and is held together with screws; and the knife is a steel blade that can be sharpened.
The shape and heft make it feel like it is custom-made to fit your hand. Using one is a whole new experience.
For skilled users, it takes one hand, and one flick of the thumb to open the knife to cut the foil under the lip of the bottle and start the action of removing the cork. Unlike most waiter’s corkscrews today, the lifter is single action, not double (or jointed), because Toering says one lifting motion is sufficient.
There are just 1,000 Code38 corkscrews in the world — because once the parts are manufactured, Toering does the final assembly and polishing himself.
Sommelier Michael Descamps uses one at Bourbon Steak and Saltwater at the MGM Grand Detroit. Engraved Code38s also are used by the staff at the French Laundry in Napa Valley and at Michael Mina’s RN74 wine bar in San Francisco.
If you’re not a waiter and your wine cellar is crying out for a Code38, you can ask your local wine shop to order one through U.S. Wine Imports, which has them in stock, or order one online at www.code38.com.