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There it is, laid down in a dark room, slumbering, just waiting for its moment to be plucked up and scurried away out of the cellar for its tantalizing and inevitable consumption. So patient, so suggestive and teasing as it stares it’s predator in the eyes. There is only one thing separating nectar from palate, the protective and life breathing cork!
This romantic story of an old dusty bottle of 1992 Château Haut-Brion brings us to the topic of how to properly remove a cork from its call of duty. Should I use a waiter’s corkscrew, or perhaps an Ah-So, or a Rabbit? Hmm, so many options to choose from and the answer is not always that clear. There are several things to consider when choosing the proper wine opening tool. The most important factor to consider is what type of wine opener you are comfortable using. It doesn’t matter how expensive or fancy your gear is if you cannot use it properly. I have seen a few glorious bottles of wine nearly tainted by a fractured neck from wine key slippage or fragments of cork floating in the wine when no decanter is available and the only option is to fish out the bits of cork from your glass with your fingertips. Does that sound like an elegant way to host a dinner party? It wouldn’t seem so. I am writing this to help assist you in making the right decision on which tools to use in certain situations or for certain bottles of wine. Here are a few things to ponder.
First off, which wine openers do you own, and of that bunch which one can you use with the most confidence? In my opinion this is THE most important deciding factor. Secondly, how old is the bottle of wine? We tend to sometimes forget just how fragile an old cork can be and there are situations where even the most experienced Sommelier will inadvertently break an old cork in the process of removing it. The decision to use the wine key that will best remove an old cork should not be overlooked. Lastly, if you are comfortable and confident enough using your tools of the trade to show off to your friends and family, I say go for it! There is nothing as breathtaking and whimsical as removing the neck of an old port with a glowing hot pair of tongs or blasting away the entire upper neck of a Champagne bottle with your trusty saber!
Below are a few examples of some common and not so common wine opening tools. We have tried to provide links to relevant products available for purchase if you are interested. Some of the photos may not match exactly since we have had them for years.
*Please note: the capsule must be removed prior to using any of these wine openers.*
The human hand:
Reliable, simple, and extremely tactile, the human hand is the most basic of wine openers. The limiting factor of course is this tool is only really useful to remove screw caps and corks from sparkling wines.
The basic corkscrew:
This is about as simple as it gets. You simply insert the worm into the cork and pull it straight out using the T-shaped handle grip.
The Sommeliers knife, AKA waiter’s corkscrew:
This is probably the most popular and commonly used of all wine openers. They are available in an endless variety of materials, colors, and options of either single or two stage design and they are usually priced from just a few dollars to several hundred or more. Note: Be sure and hold the lever against the neck of the bottle with a confident grasp, as to not have it slip and fracture the neck of the bottle. You also do not want to twist the worm all the way into the cork, as you might possibly pierce the base of the cork and end up with tiny bits of it floating in the wine.
This wine tool is an absolute must have for the serious wine drinker. This is a lifesaver that can gently remove even the oldest and most fragile of corks with ease and it looks pretty classy being utilized as well. Despite their odd appearance, they are surprisingly user friendly. All you do is place the longer prong in between the cork and neck and press down gently. As it slides in, place the shorter prong on the opposite side in between the cork and neck. Begin to push the entire tool down into the neck of the bottle in a “see-saw” motion being careful not to push the entire tool down at once, which can end up pushing the cork into the bottle. Once the tool is inserted completely, lift and twist the cork out simultaneously and boom! The old cork is removed in one piece and your friends now think you’re the coolest wine geek around.
These are easy to use wine openers in which the worm is manually twisted into the cork by turning the knob at the top of the tool, then the raised wings are manually pushed down to extract the cork.
The lever style wine opener:
These wine openers are very popular for people who are inexperienced in opening bottles of wine, or are not comfortable using the more traditional hand tools. These are very simple to use and offer fast and reliable cork removal.
This brand of wine opener works similarly to the winged corkscrew, but without the lever action. You place the base of the tool firmly on the top of the bottle neck and turn the handle at the top of the device clockwise and the cork is pulled up and out as you turn.
This brand is a pretty high tech device that uses gas to remove the cork. After you manually push the needle all the way down into the cork, a push of a button sprays inert gas into the bottle forcing the cork up and out of the bottle. The cork itself is then safely contained within the device. The opener works reliably most of the time and when it does, it is pretty cool hearing the pop while the cork is removed. Gas refill cartridges will need to be purchased in the future.
This tool is very easy to use as you simply hold the machine firmly on the top of the neck of the bottle and push the button. The device removes the cork automatically with no more than the depression of a button. Remember to keep the tool fully charged.
There is more to choosing a wine opener than some might imagine. It becomes second nature in our fast paced lives to grab whatever is handy at the moment and we tend to forget that certain jobs require precisely the right tools. Please, for the wine’s sake, treat that bottle with the respect it deserves and open it with the proper hardware. After all, it has waited so patiently for you to open it. Don’t you think it has earned the extra thought?
Cheers my friends!
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