Pillar Box Red and Pillar Box White

Pillar Box Red and Pillar Box White
My Baby, She Wrote Me A Letter

And if my baby was Australian, she would have mailed it from a pillar box, which is what mail boxes are called Down Under as well as in England.

Pillar boxes lined the coach-driven mail routes, or ‘drives,’ established in the 1850s to provide mail service to the farmers and settlers then moving into southeastern South Australia. One such route in Padthaway was operated by Henry John Hill, and ran through property now owned by the third generation of the Longbottom family.

In 1992 Kim and Mark Longbottom decided to expand their farming operation into winemaking, and released their first offering in 1996. In a nod to the history of the mail route that once passed through the vineyards, today the family’s wine business is known as Henry’s Drive Vignerons.

The Padthaway region was once covered by the ocean. The receeding waters left behind a limestone subsoil topped by rich red loamy earth. This soil structure combines with good winter rains and mild sunny summers to make Padthaway well-suited for viticulture. The first vines were planted there in 1964, and it has come to be one of Australia’s premier wine-producing regions.

Pillar Box Red 2005

A blend of 57% cabernet sauvignon, 32% shiraz, and 11% merlot. The color is opaque purple, with a European-style flavor profile. The fruit is somewhat recessive, with nice astringency and enough tannin for structure. An excellent value, and 2005 is only the second vintage.

Pair this muscular wine with roasted or grilled beef or pork, blue cheese stuffed hamburgers, or a full-flavored, tomato sauced lasagna.

Pillar Box White 2006

A blend of 66% chardonnay, 20% sauvignon blanc, and 14% verdelho. The dominant taste is grapefruit, supported by lemon and citrus zest and racy, minerally acid. This makes for a tart, zippy, refreshing wine, ideal for this time of year. The color is pale straw yellow with a green tinge.

Try this wine with grilled or baked fish, a cheese course, shrimp on the barby (of course), or even tortilla chips and salsa.

This month’s wines are both sealed with screw caps. Screw caps have long been associated with low-quality wines. However, this has begun to change because of the perennial problem of “cork taint.” Cork taint is caused by complex chemical mechanisms triggered by the presence of microscopic fungi in the cork. Although not hazardous, cork taint does ruin the wine with a musty, wet cardboard smell and taste.

Screws caps are seen as a solution to this problem, and less tradition-bound Aussies are using them extensively on wines at every quality level. Commendable as that may be, I still prefer a cork, even if it is a well-made artificial one.

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Martin Miller’s Gin

Martin Miller’s Gin
Gin Mill

Martin Miller was an English multi-millionaire, entrepreneur, connoisseur, and self-described enthusiast of “leggy women, cigarettes, and gin.” The restless Miller built his fortune on guides to antiques, investing, and real estate ventures.

In 1999, he decided to expand into spirits. At the time, premium vodkas were being introduced at a prolific rate, while gin languished. Determined to rectify that, Miller introduced the eponymous Martin Miller’s Gin.

Miller’s is batch distilled, like malt whiskey, in a 100-year-old still named Angela. The recipe features the requisite juniper, plus lemon, lime, Seville orange peel, coriander, licorice, cinnamon, cassia, and nutmeg. After distillation, the cask-strength spirit is shipped to Iceland, where it is cut with water from the local glaciers.

The Miller’s Gin flavor profile is in the traditional English style. First comes the green pine of the juniper, quickly followed by the citrus component. The finish is smooth, with just a hint of the sweetness found in superior gins.

Miller’s is offered as an 80 proof bottling, as well as a 90.4 proof “Westbourne Strength.”


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Vinturi V1010 Wine Aerator

Vinturi V1010 Wine AeratorWhen it comes to wine aeration, I am an agnostic. I rarely aerate these days, and when I do I usually use a decanter. For me, decanting and waiting an hour or two offers the best chance of improving a wine’s flavor and aroma.

But, there are many gadgets available for aerating a wine either by the glass or an entire bottle, and this Vinturi V1010 aerator is one that I have relied on for years. It is nicely designed, well built, and couldn’t be simpler to operate. Just hold it above your container, and pour the wine.

The one shortcoming my Vinturi has is that it did not come with a screen for filtering out sediment. I’m happy to note that the current model includes just such a filter. Vinturi does sell replacement filters in five packs now, as well.

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Jack Nicklaus Cabernet Sauvignon and Private Reserve White

Jack Nicklaus Wine
Golden Bear Meets the Golden State

Even among non-players, two names in golf are widely recognized: Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, aka the Golden Bear. Nicklaus has been a wine collector for many years, but only recently decided to pursue the production of wines carrying his name, although he had been urged to do so for quite some time.

Since Nicklaus obviously knows a lot more about golf than making fine wine, after five years pondering and researching a possible wine project, he decided to partner with Terlato Wines International for support and assistance in his wine program. The Terlato family was a natural fit. Scion Bill Terlato is a member and former club champion at the Nicklaus-run Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Florida, and the Terlato empire includes extensive vineyard holdings in northern California. Nicklaus was particulary impressed by the Terlato-owned Chimney Rock and Rutherford Hill wineries in the heart of Napa Valley during an early visit as the joint venture was being established.

Nicklaus selected from barrel the wines for his signature label. They are crafted by the Terlato winemaking team, with day-to-day winemaking being handled by Marisa Taylor-Huffaker. The fruit is sourced primarily from vineyards in the famous Rutherford and Stags Leap District appellations of Napa.

 Private Reserve White 2011

This proprietary white blend is “based on sauvignon blanc,” with no further information available. It was barrel fermented, with a portion of the wine in French oak, and the balance fermented in stainless steel barriques.
It is pale gold, bordering on colorless. The nose features stone fruit, particularly peach, and green apple. The taste is surprisingly delicate, with a hint of grapefruit. The mouthfeel is nicely textured.

With only 541 cases made, distribution is limited, and, frankly, the price reflects exclusivity more than taste.

Pair this up with Clams Steamed in Sauvignon Blanc with Apples, Shallots, and Chervil, or Linguine with Halibut, Tomato-Basil Purée, Squash, and Garlic.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

This cabernet shows garnet in the glass, with a somewhat lighter density than one might expect. The nose features red fruit (i.e .cherry and raspberry), with hints of dark chocolate.

The taste follows through with suggestions of dark stone fruit, toasted spices, and cedar, although the fruit is rather recessive. The flavor is balanced by well-structured tannins which deliver a medium finish. If you normally prefer merlot, I suggest you give this medium-bodied cabernet sauvignon a try.

Serve this wine with Pizza with Pesto, Tomatoes, and Fresh Mozzarella, Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Merlot and Molasses, or Fried Chicken with Buttermilk and Cornmeal Crust.


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Mossback Winery

Mossback Chardonnay and Pinot NoirThe Russian River AVA sits in the center of northern California’s Sonoma County, and is characterized by a generally cool climate, with sunny days bracketed by fog early and late. This encourages the slow-ripening of fruit, particularly suitable for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc, like these selections from Mossback Winery.

John Giguiere, with his wife Lane and brother Karl, started R.H. Phillips Winery in 1983 on land that was part of their family farm in the Dunnigan Hills of northwestern Yolo County, 30 miles east of the more-famous Napa. Over the course of 20 years, the Giguieres grew R.H. Phillips from a family winery of 10 acres and a few cases into a publicly-owned behemoth producing 900,000 cases of wine on 2500 acres, including the best-selling Toasted Head and EXP as well as R.H. Phillips.

When John and Lane left the company in 2005 to return to more-personalized winemaking, they were joined by Dan Cederquiest to found Crew Wine Company, which produces a variety of wines, including Matchbook.

Mossback is an old-fashioned term for “farmer,” and is an homage from the Crew trio to the farmers on which they rely to supply the fruit for their Russian River offerings.

Mossback Russian River Valley Chardonnay2009

The impression of this wine is as understated as its pale yellow color would suggest. Made in the style of a French Chablis, the wine is 80% cold fermented in stainless steel to retain acidity and as much of the character of the fruit as possible.

The delicate nose presents citrus notes, and the taste features green apples, baked honey, and a hint of melon. 1,093 cases were bottled of this 100% Chardonnay.

This food-friendly wine would pair nicely with Grilled Scallops Wrapped in Proscuitto, Grilled Salmon Burgers, or Hoisin Honey-Glazed Chicken.

Mossback Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2009

This elegant Pinot Noir is 97% Pinot Noir with 3% Syrah added for additional structure. The fruit was sourced from three well-regarded Russian River Valley vineyards. After fermentation, the juice was aged in French oak for nine months.

In the glass, the color is a pleasing cherry red. There is almost no nose, but don’t be discouraged by that. On the palate, the fruit displays plenty of tart cherry and strawberry, supported by a bit of cream and vanilla. There is a medium finish, with no bitterness or aftertaste.

Enjoy this Pinot with Grilled Turkey Burgers with Yogurt-Cucumber Sauce, Salmon Fillets with Sesame Crust, or Vegetarian Shish Kabobs.


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Truchard Vineyards Chardonnay 2008 and Pinot Noir 2007

Truchard VineyardsTruchard Vineyards was established in 1974, when native Texans Tony and Jo Ann Truchard purchased a 20-acre parcel of land in Carneros. They transformed what was an abandoned prune orchard into a vineyard, and began selling the fruit to a local winery. Because of the difficult clay soil he had to work with, as well as a dearth of groundwater, Truchard was one of the early adapters of drip irrigation, a practice that was used in Israel for desert farming but not known in California yet. The Truchard Estate Vineyard has since grown to 400 acres, of which 280 are planted.

In 1989, the Truchards began making wine for themselves (even as Tony continued his practice as a physician), using only their estate-grown fruit. Today the winery makes 12 different wines, producing a total of 16,000 cases per year. The Truchard’s remain active at the winery even now, along with able assistance from their son, Anthony Truchard II who serves as General Manager. Their winemaker (and Milwaukee native) is Sal De Ianni. Originally a chemist, De Ianni was sufficiently drawn to wine that he took his M.S. in Enology at UC Davis. In 1998, he responded to a help wanted ad posted by the Truchards, and has been with the winery ever since.

As the most Northeastern vineyard in the Carneros region, Truchard is situated on the foothills of what becomes the Mayacama mountain range and Mount Veeder. The Truchard Estate contains a variety of soils: clay, shale, sandstone, volcanic rock and ash, and enjoys marine-moderated temperatures.

Truchard Chardonnay 2008

A light-yellow colored Chardonnay that starts with pear, citrus, and a hint of sweet banana. The palate is full bodied, with its acidity balanced by flavors of tart green apple, lime, and very light oak. The finish is dry, with suggestions of lemon pith and spice.

Try this Chard with Roasted Trout, Squid with Spinach, or Shrimp with Canellini Beans.

Truchard Pinot Noir 2007

This lean, Old World-style Pinot Noir opens with a bouquet of plum, red berry, and tea. On the palate, the wine is medium bodied and balanced, starting with a bit of sweet vanilla and moving on to spicy oak, cranberry, leather, and tobacco. The finish is dry, with delicate tannins and a hint of bitterness.

People who don’t like “fruit bombs” will enjoy this wine. This Pinot should pair well with Fried Veal Cutlets in Tomato Sauce, Peppery Beef Stew, and Meatloaf.


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Bink Wines

Bink WinesCalifornia Girls

The unusually-named Bink Wines is owned and operated by two women, which is also rather unusual (but becoming less so).

Fourth-generation-Californian Cindy Paulson grows the grapes, while also maintaining her day job as an environmental engineer (she earned a doctorate in environmental engineering at Colorado University at Boulder). Her farming philosophy is deeply rooted in sustainable practices, coming from her environmental background and love of the outdoors.

Deb Schatzlein makes the wines. This Connecticut native is known as a fun-loving free spirit; her grandparents set the mold early, making gin in their bathtub during Prohibition. She has degrees in chemistry (with an early career as a chemical engineer) and biology, and has taken extensive coursework in viticulture and enology.

And that name? It’s a contraction of ‘black ink,’ the color characteristic of their red wines.

Bink Randle Hill Vineyard Sauvingon Blanc 2008

This all-stainless-steel 100% Sauvignon Blanc is unfiltered. Consequently, this pale-yellow wine can pour out cloudy, without the crystal-clear appearance most consumers expect. To avoid this, let the bottle rest upright for an hour or so, and decant carefully. Or, if you insist on transparency, you could pour it through a paper coffee filter; unorthodox, and it may strip out some of the flavor nuance, but it works.

This wine’s birthplace, the 13-acre Randle Hill Vineyard, is certified organic, and yielded a small production of 350 cases.

The wine opens with delicately sweet honeysuckle and mango flavors, which then lead to a body featuring grapefruit notes and a supportive minerality.

Serve with Red Chile-Honey Glazed Salmon, BBQ Marlin with Avocado Vinaigrette, or Rum-Brown Sugar-Glazed Shrimp with Lime and Cilantro.

Bink Hawks Butte Merlot 2006

The Hawks Butte vineyard is part of the Yorkville Highlands Appellation, and is located mid-way between the small California towns of Yorkville and Boonville. It is 1200 feet above sea level and 35 miles inland from the Pacific coast. The rocky soils and southern exposure of the vineyard make for high-quality but low-yield vines, providing only enough juice to make 150 cases of this wine.

It was aged for 22 months in 30%-new and 70%-old oak barrels.
As is to be expected of Bink, the color is deep garnet in the glass. The nicely full palate features black currant and stone fruits, supported by somewhat forward tannins and some spice. This Merlot is an excellent value.

Enjoy this substantial wine with Balsamic-Marinated Flank Steak, Asian-Spice Rubbed Pork Chops, or Burgers with Cheddar Cheese and Horseradish Mustard.

Bink Wine closed permanently in 2017.

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Exitus Red Wine

Exitus Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Wine
And Now for Something Completely Different

The Exitus winery is located in Parlier, California, about 20 miles southeast of Fresno. I don’t know how badass the people of Parlier are, but it’s certainly the image that Exitus is trying to cultivate. Their one current offering is Exitus Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Wine. It is fermented in the usual stainless steel. But, rather than using traditional barrels expressly made for wine, Exitus is matured for three months in charred barrels that were previously used for the production of Kentucky Bourbon. The schtick is supported by distributing the wine in clear liquor bottles.

Exitus is a blend of Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Merlot, sporting a robust 15.9% ABV. The wine displays a dark but bright cherry color in the glass (as well as the bottle). The alcohol is evident on the nose of the first pour, but gives way to aromas of dark berry, leather, and tobacco thereafter. After about an hour, Exitus becomes surprisingly well-behaved, with flavors of ripe dark stone fruit, dusty chocolate, and spices. Things wrap up with a bit of oak, vanilla, and balanced tannin. Interestingly, Exitus had me thinking about a glass of port for after dinner.

Try this wine with sweet and sour baby back ribs, thyme-scented pork loin with grapes and port, or sloppy joe burgers.  But do it soon.  As clever as that clear bottle is, the wine won’t age gracefully in it.


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Gainey Vineyard

Gainey VineyardsGoing to California

Fifty-seven years ago, in 1962, Dan Gainey purchased 1800 acres in the Santa Ynez valley of California’s central coast region, directly west of Santa Barbara. After twenty-two years of farming and ranching, Gainey became convinced of the area’s potential [and profitability] as a vineyard.

After the Gaineys (three Dans are currently involved) opened their Spanish-style winery in 1984, the winery quickly became one of the most popular wineries to visit in the area, and it was named as “one of the best wineries to visit on California’s Central Coast” by Wine Spectator magazine.

Gainey Vineyard owns properties in both the warm, eastern end of the valley, where they concentrate on Bordeaux varieties, and the cool, western end of the valley, where they have planted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah.

Gainey Merlot 2004

This muscular but lush Merlot features blackberry and cassis on the palate, supported by hints of oak, tobacco, and leather. Velvety mouthfeel, supple tannins, and a long finish round out this attractive wine.

Pair this expressive, cool-climate Merlot with grilled or rotisserie chicken, pork tenderloin, or simply prepared-beef dishes.

Gainey Riesling 2007

Gainey specializes in Riesling, and this wine shows why. If you normally avoid Rieslings, try this one. It is pale gold, completely dry, and has medium acidity. The traditional apricot and pear flavors are present, but the flowery overtones are held well in the background.


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Cockfighter’s Ghost Shiraz

Cockfighter’s Ghost Shiraz

I Come from a Land Down Under

In this post I sample two uncommon wines that only have one thing in common: they both come from Australia’s McLaren Vale.

Cockfighter’s Ghost Shiraz 2002

Some say that if the light of the moon is just right, the ghost of Cockfighter the horse can be seen galloping through the vineyards of Pooles Rock.

Perhaps. The wine named in his memory is anything but ephemeral, however. Cockfighter’s Ghost Shiraz first greets you with a powerful nose of earth and dark berry fruit. The berry and black plum flavors continue on the palate, supported by some spice, black pepper, and oak. The color is a dense, dark crimson.

After letting this shiraz ‘breathe’ for at least an hour to soften its edges, serve with rare roast beef and field mushrooms, spicy sausages with tomatoes and Italian beans, or oven-roasted rack of lamb.


Tapestry Chardonnay 2005

This chardonnay is an excellent value, with more character than its relatively low price would predict.

The wine spent nine months on-lees in new French oak, and features a very appealing balance of juicy stone fruit and a citrus acidity, supported by the spicy, toasty oak, with a moderately long finish. There was no malo-lactic fermentation. The color is pale straw with green tints.

Serve lightly chilled with coquille St. Jacques, fried calamari, or grilled whole red snapper.

[Unfortunately, Tapestry Wines is now reported closed.}

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Shellback Rum

Shellback RumYo, Ho, Ho, and a Bottle (or two) of Rum

Historically, ‘shellback’ was a title bestowed on mariners who crossed the equator, a risk-filled achievement in the days of wooden ships under sail.

There’s no risk in this Shellback rum, part of E&J Gallo’s foray into the liquor category. To produce this offering, they have partnered with West Indies Rum Distillery, which has been making the spirit since 1893 on the island of Barbados, the birthplace of rum.

Both Shellbacks are a blend of neutral and heavy unaged rum distilled with a mix of continuous and pot stills.

Shellback Silver features a suggestion of vanilla and tropical fruit. It has a distinct sweetness, a silky mouthfeel, and a medium finish. Shellback Spiced builds on that vanilla-accented base with the addition of cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, cassia, and allspice. The Spiced is then aged for a minimum of 12 months in used-once bourbon barrels, for a rounder mouthfeel and lingering finish.

Good on the rocks, Shellback rum also works well as the key ingredient in rum-based cocktails, such as a Mojito or Daiquiri.

Both of these rums are 40% ABV and are widely available.


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Maison M. Chapoutier

Maison M. ChapoutierThe Rhone Ranger

Thanksgiving is next week, and these two wines would be very appropriate for the holiday feast (Christmas and Hanukkah, too!)

Maison M. Chapoutier is a winery and négociant business located in Tain-l’Hermitage in the Rhône region in southeastern France. (Négociant is the French term for a wine merchant who assembles the produce of smaller growers and winemakers and sells the result under its own name.) Chapoutier produces wine from appellations across the Rhône region, in a wide spectrum of varietals, styles, and price points. The house has holdings in Portugal and Australia, as well.

Polydor Chapoutier established the business in 1879, and it has remained family-owned ever since. Yet despite its long history, by the late 1970s the winery was languishing, the wines weren’t selling, and the firm was in danger of bankruptcy.

In 1990, at age 26, Michel Chapoutier took control, after studying oenology in both France and California. In the intervening years he has transformed the winery into one of the leading Rhône Valley producers. He combines the traditional and the modern, being an early advocate of organic and biodynamic winemaking. He pruned back the vineyards and boldly reduced yields from 2.6 tons per acre to 1.8 tons per acre for both red and white wines. Industrial chemicals, fertilizers, and sprays were eliminated. Grapes are now harvested by hand and only natural yeasts are used to produce unfiltered wines.

Critic Robert Parker has called Chapoutier “one of the most influential wine personalities of the last 20 years.”

Chapoutier’s wine labels are distinctive because of their inclusion of Braille writing on all labels since 1996. The information presented in Braille includes the producer, the vintage, the vineyard, the region, and the color of the wine.

Belleruche Rosé 2012

This wine is a fruit-forward blend of Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah, with a brilliant copper-salmon color. The nose is predominantly aromas of strawberries. On the palette, expect hints of cream soda and grapefruit (yeah, it does work). There is plenty of zippy acidity, as well.

Give this wine a try with a Tomato and Onion Tart, Smoked Shellfish Quesadillas with Fresh Corn Salsa, or Shrimp Kabobs with Lemons and Bay Leaves.

Belleruche Rouge 2011

Like most European wines, this lean, fruit-recessive selection is ‘food’ wine, made to drink at the dinner table, not with a pre-meal chat.

Belleruche Rouge is a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, and was fermented and aged in vats. It is dark garnet red in the glass, with a subtle nose where no dominant aroma jumps out. The palette has an earthy quality, and features tastes of Morello cherries and black tea. The tannins offer plenty of support, but the finish is rather short.

Enjoy this wine with Wild Mushroom Soup with Blue Cheese Toasts, Beef Stew with Turnips, or Cassoulet.


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Dakota Shy Cabernet Sauvignon

Dakota Shy Cabernet SauvignonDakota Shy was founded by industry veterans Todd Newman and Tom Garrett in 2008, determined to ultimately create a world-class estate of their own. They began by sourcing Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from a range of vineyards throughout Napa Valley.

Dakota Shy purchased its estate in 2014. It dates back to the 1850s, when George Yount took possession via the Spanish Land Grant. Along side the vines, there are 1.2 acres of Italian and Spanish olives from which Dakota Shy presses their own oil.

In addition to the estate, Dakota Shy continues to source grapes from all over Napa Valley. These sites offer unique and varied characteristics that Dakota Shy relies on in the creation of their Cabernets.

This wine opens with notes of stone and spice on the nose. Flavors of grass, oak, dried cherry, cocoa and minerals follow. The medium body is supported by well integrated oak and tannin. Decant for three to four hours before serving. Available only by allocation.


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The Singleton of Glendullan

The Singleton of GlendullanEvery once in awhile I like to take a a wee nip of Scotch whiskey just as variety from the grape. So when I received word of this single malt, it seemed like an opportune time to tickle the taste buds. The Singleton of Glendullan is the object of interest here, and a fine example of Scotland’s most famous region for single malts, Speyside.

The Glendullan distillery was founded in Dufftown, Speyside in 1897, and the distillery receives its pure waters from the River Dullian, a tributary of the Spey River. The whiskey is matured for 12 years in used oak casks from both American bourbon and European sherry. The combination creates a well-balanced, rich tasting malt that can be enjoyed as a cocktail before dinner or as an after dinner treat. It has a semi-crisp taste that is refreshing and even zingy without being overpowering, an excellent choice for those not yet ready to try some of the heavier Scotch offerings.

Although I’m not much interested in numerical ratings here at Winervana, they certainly do exist elsewhere.  In a blind tasting conducted by the Beverage Tasting Institute, The Singleton scored a 92-point rating. They rank that as “exceptional,” and The Singleton outscored traditional category leaders such as Macallan 12 (90 rating), Glenlivet 12( 88), and Glenfiddich 12 (86), for what it’s worth.


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The Best Corkscrew

Le Creuset Wine Opener

Le Creuset Opener Black G

Is this really the best corkscrew?  With hundreds of devices on amazon alone for opening wine bottles, some costing hundreds of dollars, I realize this is a bold claim.  But yes.  For the money, the Le Creuset Wine Opener simply can’t be beat.  It’s dead-simple to use, and works correctly every time.  The Teflon-coated worm pierces the cork with ease, and simply continuing to turn the handle then extracts it smoothly.

This corkscrew was originated by Hallen International Inc., and sold for years under the Screwpull trademark.  In 1991, Le Creuset acquired the Screwpull line, but didn’t rebrand it until the early ‘teens.  Le Creuset makes a number of other corkscrews, including a cheaper model that resembles this one.  Although it operates on the same principle, it is flimsier, prone to breakage, and gets mixed reviews on Amazon. 

Although nothing lasts forever, in 30 years I’ve only owned three copies of this Le Creuset Wine Opener, one of which was broken by a rowdy party guest.

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