Waiter’s friend. Sommelier knife. Wine key. Corkscrew. Whatever you call it, there is only one tool that the modern sommelier is never without. Yet the simple corkscrew has gone through a number of iterations to get to where it is today. Although mentions of a “steel worm” can be traced back to the late 1600s, the first corkscrew patent was filed in 1795 by Reverend Samuel Henshall in Oxford, England. Nearly 100 years later, across the Channel in Germany, Carl F.A. Wienke filed a patent in 1882 for the folding corkscrew under the name “Waiter’s Friend.”
With little more than a screw and a lever, the basicness of the wine key is also its brilliance.
Sébastien Lézier, founder of LIGNE W, describes the sommelier knife as “the unifying object par excellence.” Buying discarded wine barrels from winemakers in France, he uses the dismantled barrel staves to craft the corkscrews’ handles. Lézier believes that just such a worthy material deserves to live on in the handle of a sommelier. In 2017, LIGNE W acquired the Chateau Laguiole brand. ASI caught up with Lézier to find out a bit more about what tools and skills define the Sommellerie today.
What three skills must every sommelier possess?
- Listening skills. To understand the customer’s taste and what he is looking for. Does he already have an idea of what he is looking for or is he willing to be surprised?
- An open mind: With the information given by the customer and the dishes chosen, the sommelier, giving the wines he has in his restaurant cellar and menu, shall propose several choices including one that could positively surprise the customer.
- Self-confidence and “showman” skills: The sommelier must tantalize his customer and make him remember this sommelier interaction is an integral part of the experience.
What tool is no modern sommelier ever without?
A great sommelier knife of course!
This is the main tool of a sommelier and most of them choose their tools cautiously. A great wine opener is not always a very expensive one, but it must reflect the personality of his owner. It is like the prolongation of his hand. In case of a tattooed arm for instance, we could imagine the prolongation of the tattoo on the corkscrew itself!
For me opening a bottle is like a show and a good performance needs a good professional tool… Please, do not ask me for my thoughts about screw caps!