OPENING wine bottles with cork closures can be quite challenging. And breaking a wine cork could be one of the most frustrating — and embarrassing — moments for any wine lover. Yet, we encounter this quite often at home as well as in restaurants where waitstaff struggle to open wine bottles with their different wine openers. While drinking wine is relaxing, opening a wine bottle can be stressful to many. I think it is about time we take a more serious look at the different kinds of wine openers and see how each one functions in removing the cork that protects and preserves our wines.
SEVEN DIFFERENT KINDS OF WINE OPENERS
• The Waiter’s Friend Corkscrew — As far as I am concerned, any self-respecting wine person needs to have this as their basic wine opener. Other openers can be part of a wine accessory collection. There are several models for this type of opener, but my favorite is the double-lever version. This type of Waiter’s Friend allows the cork to be pulled out in two steps, leveraging each lift to avoid cracking the whole cork as the wine is being opened. There is still no guarantee of that you will not break a cork with this opener, but the more you use it, the more you will become adept at it. The Waiter’s Friend is not very expensive, but if you long for the “Rolls-Royce” of this kind of corkscrew, there is the French-made Laguiole corkscrew — it is made in Auvergne, France, hand-crafted individually by artisans like an expensive Swiss watch, and uses traditional craftsmanship dating back to 1829. The Laguiole cost more than many premium wines, and is easily between P5,000 to P10,000 per corkscrew.
• The Winged Corkscrew, a.k.a. Butterfly Corkscrew — This is probably the most common opener you will see in restaurants, supermarkets, and liquor shops here in the country. All of these winged corkscrews are made in China and available cheaply at between P150 to P200. I really despise this opener as it is by far the most unreliable of all cork pullers. First, there is no sharp blade or knife in this corkscrew, so removing the foil of the bottle is already a challenge. Then the “screw part” or spiral bit is too course and, more often than not, tears the cork apart. After the screw enters the cork, the butterfly wings go up in synchronized form, than you have to push both the wings down to release the cork. It may look aesthetically nice, but this opener sucks.
• The “Ah-So,” a.k.a. Two-Prong Cork Puller — This is a German engineered wine opener, using two unequal steel prongs to pull the cork out. The concept is to insert the two prongs in between the cork and the bottle, and then to twist and pull the cork until the cork slides out. I am not a huge fan of this opener in general, but for old vintage wines that have brittle corks, the Ah-So is by far the best opener to get the entire cork out. This opener can also rescue corks that break in half inside the bottle by pulling out the remaining cork piece better than other openers that tend to further shred the rest of the cork. Sadly though, this opener can be used by dishonest wine traders to substitute something else for the actual wine in the bottle, as the opener can leave no trace, nor hole in the original cork when being opened or closed. You can rarely find these openers in wine shops but it should not be that expensive.
• The “Rabbit Ear” or “Bunny Ear” Wine Opener — There are mounted and un-mounted versions to this brilliant piece of mechanical ingenuity. The screw/spiral bit from the rabbit ear penetrates through the cork and pulls the entire cork out in one swift motion. After the wine is opened, the second motion from rabbit ear opener releases the cork. I used this quite a lot when I was operating a wine bar several years back, and my mounted Rabbit Ear also looked quite aesthetically pleasing. My only beef with this opener, and this same argument applies to the two openers that follow in this list, is that the spiral bit touches the wine as it penetrates the cork to pull the entire cork out. As a wine purist, I hate that my wine gets touched by anything foreign. The un-mounted version costs around P1,000, while the mounted version can be more expensive.
• The Screwpull Opener — Screwpull is a trademark for a wine opener created in 1979 by owner-designer Herbert Allen of Hallen International Inc. Hallen International and its very successful Screwpull line of wine openers and accessories were sold in 1991 to French cookware and kitchen tools company Le Creuset. Screwpull openers are designed to hold and cover the neck of wine bottle and feature Teflon coated screws/spiral bits that easily pierce and penetrate through the cork till the cork is thoroughly released. I bought my first Screwpull in the mid-1990s, and I still marvel at this simple, yet extremely efficient wine opener until now. The model I got is the Le Creuset Travel Screwpull that has a removable and extendable handle, aside from its compact size. I rarely use my Screwpull now (as I mentioned above, I do not like my wine being touched by the screw), but I still show it to my class when I conduct my wine seminars as an example of a very good kind of wine opener. The Travel Screwpull costs around P1,500 to P2,000 each.
• The Electric Wine Opener — There are now many electric wine openers, and they actually all function similarly. The one I have experience with is the Oster brand rechargeable electric wine opener. This is very convenient and easy to use. It even comes with a foil cutter. After removing the top foil and exposing the cork, the Oster electric wine opener is simply placed on top of the bottle and, pushing two control buttons, the cork is removed hassle free and in seconds. To uncork the wine, the downward button is pressed to force the build-in spiral bit through the cork. The electric opener automatically stops when the cork is completely released from the bottle. After this, the upward button is pressed to release the cork from the electric opener. It is a wonderful gadget to show off to your friends. It is slightly noisy however, but the feeling of opening something electronically is still exhilarating. The Oster wine opener is cordless, but needs to be recharged after every 30 bottles uncorked. You need not sweat it out just to open your favorite wine. You can ask your local Oster distributor if this is available in the country. The Oster electric wine opener retails at around $40 in the US, but there are several copycat versions made in China that are easily half the price.
• The Coravin System — Coravin is the recent craze among oenophiles. Created in 2013 by American “medical needle” expert Greg Lambrecht, the Coravin shot to fame among wine aficionados in the last two years. Coravin is a high-tech wine opener and wine preservation device that uses a hollowed needle — similar to an epidural needle — which is inserted through the cork (even with the foil capsule intact) to pour the wine out. At the same time, the bottle is being filled with pure argon gas to prevent oxidation. Once the needle is removed from the bottle, the cork reseals automatically and the wine can be preserved as if it was never opened. It is basically a wine opener that does not remove the cork. Replacement argon gas capsules are sold separately when the build-in argon gas is used up. Coravin replaces the foil cutter, the cork opener, the pourer, and any wine preservation system that is available, whether it be the wine pump, the inert gas can or even the big dispensing machines like the Enomatic system. Coravin is, however, quite expensive, and one of its latest models — the Coravin Eleven — is going to cost you around $1,000.
While the wine openers are merely means to an end, opening wine in comfort and style are probably as important in preparation for wine appreciation. Why stress out before de-stressing?
The author is a member of UK-based Circle of Wine Writers. For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, and other wine-related concerns, e-mail the author at email@example.com. He is also on Twitter at twitter.com/sherwinlao.