COMMENTARY

Thingamabob Snob

Gadgets, gizmos and widgets I can live without

By Ken Friedenreich

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Americans love gadgets. Two classes of these exist. The first is a gizmo; the other, a widget. The former christened a doe-eyed fuzzball in Spielberg’s blockbuster “Gremlins.” The latter consists of a group of computer apps. The point remains, both sobriquets suggest almost fatal cuteness. Somehow, wine accessories took shelter under this canopy, too. Assonance seems to suit a gizmo. I expect it to whir. A widget approximates the view of a laden Skil tool box emptied onto the floor of my garage, as in “I know it’s in here.”

The whir and clatter suppose that, design and purpose notwithstanding, numerous wine gadgets, like 99 percent of inventory in The Sharper Image store at the mall, pass unremarked and un-bought. As the retail outfit long ago ceased, clearly many others could live without electronic desk calendars or power shoe buffers. Whatever wine appliances also once stocked shared similar wonder reserved for items we would never purchase even as a gag — well, maybe nose hair clipping kits.

The Skil or Sears Roebuck tool kit for wine contains many items. Most seem engineered over millennia to extract a plug, such as a cork, and then figure a way to replace it as if Aladdin could get the djinn back in the bottle.

So, to survey the gadgetry, I turned to wine people: those who professionally pour it, distribute it, collect it and make it. A dominant theme emerged soon enough. Why not finish what you have started? Nonetheless, whether out of greed or prudence, an impulse persists to save for another day the half-depleted remains.

We begin with the Sharper Image equivalent of Marley’s Ghost — not Bob — suggested by a majority of respondents. The electric corkscrew is notable for its lack of staying power. It makes far more noise than it uncorks wines and its charge vanishes like smoke in a cigar lounge. “Few so-called wine doobies,” said one barkeep, “produce more noise with so little efficiency. The thing always needs a charge.” Another proud owner asks, “How long must I wait to open a bottle of wine this way?”

Other openers also receive low marks. The late literary and social critic Paul Fussell (1924–2012) ended his days in Oregon. Two of his rants, the 1983 “Class” and 1991 “BAD: Or the Dumbing of America,” ridicule the corkscrew with two wings and, hence, wing fasteners that invariably unfasten, leaving the thirsty to work as if dancing on one leg. I can report from experience that this malfunction happens often.

The third variation on the oeno-open ritual derives from the tripod monstrosity gripping a wine bottle with faux brass pliers handles and, thus secured, removes the cork with the force of a hydraulic machine better suited to extending the Chunnel. Not only does the opener resemble the offspring of a surveyor’s stand with a still camera platform, it occupies far more room than necessary, like breaking an egg with a mallet or spot welding a postage stamp to an envelope.

One only need apply necessary force to extrude a cork. If the cork mocks the thirsty by breaking up and sinking into the wine bottle, there is praise widely given for “the cheap thing that resembles chopsticks” to remove the recalcitrant remnant of cork. We all need a little good news.

Following the mockery of cork comes the aeration ritual. There are plenty of gizmos to make gargling or whirring sounds. These cost upwards — way up — of $35 to $40. I own one that wholesales for more. It looks like a crack pipe; all glass. Does it work? Well, it makes noises, so I figure it does. Does it improve the wine? Well, how easily can this display item be cleaned?

Many such contraptions cover the market. A commercial version combining carburetor functions with a carafe seems effective but is too costly for most people. It looks cool, however, especially since some might mistake it for a portable commode or a leftover prop from the Universal “Frankenstein” set. It’s wine theatre. Readers can compare aerated wines to others. Do you experience a significant difference beyond lightening your wallet?

It’s now safe to pour some wine — not. After all, a standing bucket can keep bubbly or white wines colder than a polar bear’s den. But what of the red wine?

The wine basket or caddy, usually a gift or re-gift, turns the trick. The bottle “rests” in the basket like Uncle Jasper at his wake — elevated and recumbent at once. I assume the position allows guests at the repast to ooh and aah over the wine while the 20-degree angle prevents sediment in the bottle. Sorry, I think of the meal Uncle Jasper will soon provide.

Fine mesh strainers can help remove sediment, so they have some reason to exist in the bar drawer. But do recall that in one Sherlock Holmes’ mystery, the crucial clue was the sediment in only one of three half-finished glasses.

Once upon a time, at this point, the gents would retire to the library for brandy, cigars and manly discussion. Wine left behind found its way to the staff. For most people, these circumstances pose no hazard. What’s left to do if not re-seat the cork or its semblance? This is gizmo heaven.

Six of eight barkeeps dismiss the little rubber stopper as ineffective. They also roundly spurn the plunger, itself a mutated pepper mill or plastic corkscrew. They swear the Vin-O-Tech will work with its argon for both preservation and dispensing. This is no affectation in Paris cafés with zinc-topped bars. The French, especially, know how to preserve and liberate wine from bottles, almost as well as they periodically surrender to Germans.

The brass and glass display machinery costs many thousands of dollars, and it surely amasses more points in a residence than either marble countertops or home theaters. As a commercial machine, it earns praise until it goes on the fritz. Then it’s back to gas canisters or rubber plugs. Italian manufacture ensures the need for tiny metric tools despite the elegant design.

Consumer, beware: There are plenty of gizmos, widgets, gadgets and more that are just plain silly and many simply over the top. 

Dishonorable Mention

  • Silver- or gold-plated Champagne stoppers
  • Cut glass faux crystal carafes or decanters with a brass chain and signage placed over the neck with the owner’s name or “Red,” “White” or “Rose” where this last is pronounced like the flower.
  • Similarly unwieldy cut wine glasses, Waterford or Dollar Store.
  • Wine strainers that lose more wine than they separate gunk.
  • Knives especially designed to remove foil from bottle necks.
  • Speaking of necks, the wristwatch that will digitally read out the temperature of that bottle, nearly useless if not posted in centigrade.
  • Cooling rings for bottles — better saved for nuclear reactors.

 

Ken Friedenreich’s book on Oregon wine will appear this summer published by History Press. If you own a gimmick to add to our inventory, please advise kenf@decodingthegrape.com.

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