Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, February 2020, The Wisdom of Butlers Past

Steven FerryThe Wisdom of Butlers Past

by Steven Ferry


Decanting has been a time-honored tradition for butlers, so no manual could be considered complete without covering the proper technique.

Butlers two centuries ago poured the wine gently through a strainer with cambrick in it to catch crust and bits of cork from entering the decanter. Cambrick? A misspelling of Cambric, an area of France producing fine and dense cloth made of linen initially, later cotton.

The advice on opening a bottle would not impress any butler, sommelier, or employer today: Place the bottle on the floor, secure it between your feet, and pull up on the corkscrew while holding the bottle down with the other hand.

With port (red) wines, they kept the bottles almost horizontal so the dregs remained in place, and poured slowly, leaving 2/3rds of a glass in the bottle with the “thick dregs.” These days, we salvage all but about two tablespoons of the wine.

The butlers also decanted white wines because they apparently included fine dregs, meaning that all wines were decanted and served from a decanter, not from the bottle.

The butler was responsible for placing silver labels, or if not, written ones on paper (with a slit in the middle of the paper so it could be slid down the neck of the bottle) so he would know what wine he was about to open—the color not being evident through the green glass bottles—in order to avoid pouring a red when a white was requested. The need for this is strange, given that wine bottles were generally labelled, even if they contained little information. The label shown here dates to three years after the publication of the book.

As for the serving temperature, it was pretty rough and ready: Place the bottles near the dining room fire to warm them if too chilled; otherwise, leave them in the cellar during hot weather until just before the meal.

Extracted from the 1823 book, The Footman’s Directory and Butler’s Remembrancer, re-published in hardback by Pryor Publications. You may obtain your discounted copy (with free s&h) by emailing the publisher: Mr. Pryor (alan AT

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