Port Tong Method: How Bottles Of Vintage Wine Are `Decapitated’ At John Howie Steak In A Fascinating Tableside Service


Romance is the essence of wine. It’s a soul experience, as many connoisseurs will tell you, and even in this modern, tech-driven world of transient sensory pleasures, a great bottle of wine should to be enjoyed mindfully and at leisure, making the terroir of the occasion as special as the terroir (soil) in which the grapes were raised and nurtured.

The old-world ceremonies that attended the opening of quality wine have more or less been antiquated with the passage of time, but John Howie Steak has resurrected a nostalgic bottle-opening ceremony that is expertly performed tableside at this premier Bellevue steakhouse, and is certain to elevate a celebratory meal experience with the elegance of the service.

It’s an 18th Century method of cutting a vintage bottle with Port Tongs, and is quite fascinating to watch.

“When you bottle age port, there is a lot of alcohol and sugar content in it, that can disintegrate the cork,” says Chris Lara, Wine Director at John Howie Steak, who has demonstrated the Port Tong method in the video posted above. “If you have a 100-year-old bottle of wine and you try to pull the cork out with a normal corkscrew, it is likely to just fall apart and leave bits of broken cork floating in the wine. This method is a fun way of getting past that problem.”

As you will see in the video, Chris uses a heated metal tong with a ring on the end to cut the bottle without disturbing the cork. Heat is applied to the neck of the bottle with the metal ring for a few seconds, and when it is removed, the glass breaks cleanly with a soft clinking sound because of the sudden and extreme change of temperature. The separated glass neck holding the cork is then dipped in creamy wax, as well as the bottle, so guests can take them home as mementos of the occasion.

The practice of using hot tongs started with vintage port (a fortified sweet wine from Portugal), but can be applied to any bottle of aged wine. “We learned this technique from Eleven Madison Park (Daniel Humm’s famous fine dining restaurant in New York City) where they do presentations like this with a lot of expertise and flair,” says Chris Lara. “And the tableside execution of the Port Tong method makes a lasting impression on guests who thoroughly enjoys it being performed especially for them.”

No doubt, the wine tastes even better after that too!