Top tricks for party perfection
From tying the perfect bow tie to dealing with a broken cork, up your party season game with suave grooming tips and useful tricks from GQ's new men's manual How to Win at Life.
Deal with a broken cork
A broken or disintegrating cork doesn't mean that your wine is "corked". It's a common misconception, but "corking", in fact, refers to a damp taste produced by a naturally occurring chemical compound called TCA. When a bottle's cork is crumbling, the wine inside may actually be perfectly good. The onus is on you to rescue it. Giovanni Ferlito is Head of Wine and Beverage at The Ritz in London, which has a wine list of more than 800 bottles. For him, dealing with failed corks is par for the course - he simply uses the following methods. "All these techniques might happen in the restaurant right in front of you, but you will not notice because the sommelier will do it quite quickly…"
Illustrations by Dave Hopkins
1. Remove your corkscrew
As soon as you feel a cork start to give - as if you're turning the corkscrew into butter - stop immediately and carefully untwist. Don't worry, you haven't done anything wrong; the cork is to blame. Often old age will have caused it to perish, though young corks can also degrade if they are too absorbent. "Another reason could be because the bottle has been stored standing up. It's very important when we store wine for the bottle to be laid down so the cork touches the wine and doesn't dry out."
2. Make a judgement
If it's not a particularly expensive bottle, or if you break the cork in the process of trying to pull it out, you may wish to try again to remove it with the corkscrew. "Do not screw in at the same place where you screwed before, because that part is already weak." Instead, angle the corkscrew at 45 degrees, and wind it into the cork gently. Pull the cork until you can reach it with your fingers. Once you can grip the cork tightly, ease it out. "With your fingers you have much more sensitivity than with the corkscrew."
3. Corkscrew no good? use a two-prong cork puller
This device is the cleanest, most reliable way to remove a bad cork. It is readily and cheaply available, but needs to be handled correctly. Slide the longer prong between the cork and glass, inserting it at the point furthest away from you. Slip the shorter prong in at the nearest edge of the cork. Flex the handle forward and backward, applying a little pressure each time to carefully work the instrument downward. "The two prongs are now holding the cork very tightly." Simultaneously twist and pull to remove the cork. Voilà.
4. No puller to hand? Simply push & pour
In the absence of a two-prong cork puller, your best bet is to push the cork down into the bottle with your finger or the end of a wooden spoon. "You don't want the cork to stay in the wine for too long, especially because the broken cork parts are quite fresh, so you're going to decant the wine." Line a funnel with a coffee filter or a clean and odourless piece of fine cloth, such as muslin. Insert a long implement, such as a cocktail stirrer into the opening of the bottle, to stop the cork blocking the neck. Decant the wine.
5. Introducing the Cork retriever
So, you have pushed in the cork and decanted your wine - but what if you wish to present it in the original bottle? You'll need a cork retriever. Slide it into the bottle and shake the cork into position between the wires. Move the retriever's collar up the wires to pincer the cork. This may take a few attempts: "I have to be honest, it's not the easiest!" Twist and pull firmly to remove the cork, then wash the bottle out and allow it to dry upside down. Decant the wine back into the bottle through a filter. Your 1995 Pétrus can now be served in the manner it deserves.
Tie a first-class bow tie
Style rubes assume that the advantage of a "real" bow tie comes only at the end of the night, when you can unleash it and let it hang from your collar insouciantly. And, yes, that does look great. But it can be a signifier of sophistication from the get-go if others spot that you tied it yourself. So, here's a foolproof method that will not only help you succeed in knotting it (have faith), but will also give your bow a dishevelled sprezzatura. Never be mistaken for a member of the clip-on club again…
1. Drape around your neck
Keep one end slightly longer than the other. Cross long end over short and tie a half-knot.
2. Give it a twist
Form the short end into a bow shape. Let the other end hang over the centre. Twist it once.
3. Pinch the bow together
Form the second bow shape and push it through the hole behind the first.
Tighten and adjust, fanning the bow for just the right amount of not-giving- a-damn.
Step up your shoeshine technique
Time was, every man used to know the proper way to polish his shoes. The rise of sneakers, synthetic materials and "instant shine" sponges (shudder) means that today it is becoming a forgotten art. One place where it continues to thrive, however, is George Cleverley. Founded in 1958, this London shoemaker has created footwear for everyone from Sir Michael Caine to Alexander McQueen, Jonathan Ive to David Beckham - and the workshop manager, Adam Law, still uses a traditional technique to achieve a gleaming shine. "The polish on the shoes also makes them more durable," says Law. "If you have a highly polished pair of shoes and you drop water on them, the water just rolls off." Here's how to look sharper for longer south of the ankle…
1. Clean them down
Take out your laces, otherwise they'll retain polish that might rub onto your trousers, and insert shoe trees so you have a solid surface on which to work. Clean the leather with a soft horsehair brush, then use a welt brush - which looks like a large toothbrush - to get into the seams. "If any dirt is left when you come to polishing the shoe, there's the potential to collect grit on your cloth or brush," says Law, "and then you might drag it all over the leather and scratch it."
2. Feed 'em up (optional)
If they are shoes that you wear regularly, proceed straight to step 3. But if they are seasonal footwear that you're about to lay down in the back of your wardrobe after polishing, first apply a moisturising leather cream with a cloth or brush. "You can be quite liberal with it - do the tongue as well - and give it time to sink in," says Law. "It's important because if the leather dries out, then it might crack and become brittle, causing it to deteriorate."
3. It's all about that base
Give your shoes a base shine. Use a round brush to apply wax polish all over the upper, the welt and into any brogue holes. "Using a brush with a smaller head is good, as it makes you work harder to get the polish into the leather." If the shoe is brown, make sure the polish is a shade lighter, but don't use "neutral" if you want to get rid of scuffs. Once you have covered the whole shoe, apply a second layer of polish, wait for 30 minutes, then buff with the horsehair brush.
4. Bust the clouds
Wrap your forefinger in a lint-free cloth - Law recommends those made by Selvyt - and apply another coat of polish to the leather in circular motions about 2.5cm (1in) in diameter. This creates friction and helps the polish to melt. "As you're doing this, you'll see that the polish starts off looking cloudy. You want to polish all the way through that stage, keeping on with your circular motions until the polish starts to become clear." Repeat this step before moving on.
5. Build up layers
Pour some water into the lid of the polish tin. Wrap your finger in the same area of Selvyt used for applying the polish, and dip it in. Work this in circular motions over all the leather. Next, add a whole new layer of polish in circular motions, working through the cloudiness as per step 4. Then apply water again. Repeat this pattern of a layer of polish followed by water four more times. "Each time you add a layer, make the pressure slightly lighter." You should now have an extremely high shine. Lace up your shoes as shown. Step out with pride.
GQ How To Win At Life by Charlie Burton is published by Mitchell Beazley, £14.99. Illustrations by Dave Hopkins