Wednesday, March 29, 2023
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Tips on Opening a Bottle

Many years ago I learned a difficult lesson on a Spring picnic in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It should have been a romantic afternoon. I had scouted out a private location with a breathtaking coastal view, assembled gourmet fare including a fresh baguette, an assortment of cheeses and fresh fruits, a fine bottle of dry white and a back-up bottle of notso dry. I packed an oversize blanket, cutting board and knife, plates, silverware, even real wine glasses and a custom-recorded cassette of my date's favorite music. She was sure to be impressed.

I expected my uncorker of choice to impress her as well, a double-pronged tool called the "Ah-So." The technique of this device is to slide the opposing spring-metal prongs between the bottle lip and the cork, alternately, and in a gently "rocking" motion until the cork is wedged between the prongs. The handle is then twisted and the cork pulled. The procedure takes a certain "feel" and is mildly tricky, but easy to master.

I had used this instrument to deftly remove dozens of corks. That is, until this occasion -- miles from civilization. One prong suddenly broke off, stuck between the cork and the bottle. The back-up bottle would do me no good: I had no back-up cork puller and so the image I intended to project plummeted instantly from that of Cary Grant to that of Elmer Fudd. Lesson learned, these days, computer files are not the only things I back up.

There are many styles and prices of corkscrews, from the 99¢ bamboo "portable" model that hides the screw inside the "T" handle, to elaborate lever models on tripod floor stands. Once proven that the given model will do the job reliably (not all will), the decision to buy should be based on purpose and budget.


Although cork pullers come in myriad configurations, no matter what the handle or mechanical lever advantages, the screw is the tool, so get the right one. There are three basic designs, two good, one junk. The planed helix is most often found on antique models. A wooden match fits neatly up the center of a good wire helix worm; some have the benefit of teflon coating for ease of entry and release. Avoid the auger shape, which does not grip well, bores a hole in the cork, and adds mass that actually makes the cork harder to remove! The only advantage of the auger is that it's cheap to manufacture. It performs so poorly, however, that even if free , it is overpriced! Unfortunately, most of the popular "winged" corkscrews come with auger screws. Those levers won't make a bit of difference if the opener can't get a grip.


In terms of reliability, durability and portability, the best cork puller to own is the "Waiter's Friend", patented in 1882 by German inventor Karl Wienke. The spring-loaded screw is mounted in the center of the handle, with a fulcrum at one end and a short knife at the other end and on the opposite edge.

Some modern bottles have only a wax seal atop the cork. Pretend it isn't there; the corkscrew goes right through. Trying to pick it out only makes a mess.

(If the bottle lacks a hood or foil covering its neck and cork, simply skip this paragraph.)
The knife is used to remove the foil. There is one safe and sure way to do this. Open the blade and lay the handle on the palm-up hand across the base of the fingers, with the blade tip pointing in the same direction as and the blade edge pointing TOWARDS the outstretched thumb. Gripping the handle firmly with the fingers, turn the palm down and place the neck of the bottle between the thumb and the knife edge. The knife should be UNDER the bottle's drip ridge. Squeezing the bottle neck with enough pressure to cut the foil, use the other hand to rotate the bottle one full turn. Use the point of the blade to separate and discard the cap from the remainder of the foil, which stays on the bottle. Close the blade. Plastic hoods usually require more pressure than tin or aluminum. Some will have a pull-strip to assist in removal, although these don't always work.

Open the screw. Although old wisdom says not to penetrate through the opposite end of the cork in order to avoid getting cork pieces in the wine, nevermind. Size does matter; so does sharpness. A long, sharp wire helix worm will neatly pierce even a dry cork without breaking off pieces and is guaranteed to grip and remove the cork whole.

Put the POINT of the screw in the CENTER of the cork. Do not be at all concerned about aligning the worm parallel to the bottle neck. It is more important to get the worm centered. As the worm is turned into the cork (most often clockwise), it will begin to right itself as it goes deeper. When only one turn of the worm is still visible, STOP. Bend the handle-lever down to allow opening the fulcrum. Place the fulcrum's notch on the edge of the bottle and, on the hand gripping the bottle, use the index finger to hold the fulcrum to the bottle. use the other hand to lift the handle-lever and raise the cork about one-half inch. Turn the screw that last turn and finish lifting and removing the cork. You have probably already figured out the next step: pour and enjoy!

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