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Uncorking Wine

What We Imagine

Many people have an image of a dark, mysterious wine cellar filled with dusty, century-old bottles. So they let their own wines languish on the rack, "developing" their flavors.

The Reality

Only a handful of wines—including vintage Champagne, premium Cabernet Sauvignon, or a number of European reds—actually benefit from years in a bottle. The vast majority of wines are at their most delicious the day you purchase them. This is especially true of whites and big, fruity reds like Merlot, Zinfandel, and Shiraz from the New World. Keep them too long—more than a few years—and they'll actually start to deteriorate. So if you're guilty of hoarding these wines—it's high time to pull their corks! Get tips from some masters for doing just that.

In Defense of Screw Caps

Screw caps keep wine just as fresh and do not affect its flavor. The only advantage of a cork over a screw cap is tradition. Winemakers today are increasingly choosing screw caps over corks, even for fine wines. So don't let a screw cap make you think less of a wine. Unless you're a traditionalist—in which case, we totally understand.

Choosing a Corkscrew

types of corkscrewsEver since winemakers have been putting corks in their bottles, wine lovers have been dreaming up ways to coax the corks back out. Which is the best? The one you feel most comfortable and confident using.

First, however, you should consider the worm (that's wine-world terminology for the part that screws into the cork). The worm should be a helix; that is, a spiral that guides into the cork. Some inexpensive corkscrews resemble an actual screw, with a solid core and a point in the center. These can tear the cork.

While a great range of corkscrew styles have emerged over the centuries, the most practical wine-openers available today are variations on these common models:

  • Waiter's Friend: Looking like a little jackknife, with the worm folding out of one end and a tiny knife (for cutting foil capsules) folding out of the other, this tool's key feature is the lever. Positioning it against the rim of the bottle gives you leverage to help ease the cork out.
  • Winged Corkscrew: With this contraption, as you twist the worm into the cork, the wings ease upward. As you push the wings back down, out comes the cork.
  • Screw-Pull: No strong-arming needed—virtually anyone can operate this model. You simply turn the handle until the worm lifts into a frame that surrounds the worm.
  • Lever-Style Corkscrew: This is the slickest yet. While squeezing together handles to grip the neck with one hand, you use the other hand to pull the lever over the bottle, effortlessly removing the cork.

Advantages/Disadvantages

The waiter's friend is inexpensive and compact, but requires some practice, while the winged, screw-pull, and lever-style models are all very easy to maneuver. The lever-style can be the most expensive; it's also clunky and takes up space in your cupboard or cabinet. However, if you often open a lot of bottles at one time for tastings and parties, it's worth the investment.

Also keep in mind that it's a good idea to have more than one style of corkscrew handy—if your favorite corkscrew fails to coax out a difficult cork, another style may be just the answer.

The Problem Cork

It happens to everyone now and then: the cork breaks in half, or crumbles. What to do? First, gently unscrew the worm back out of what remains of the cork. Then, using a straightforward corkscrew such as a waiter's friend, gingerly try to screw the worm back in to the meatiest, least frayed part of the cork as far as you can. Slowly ease the cork back out.

If push comes to shove you can do just that—shove what's left of the cork into the bottle. At this point, you'll want to decant the wine into another vessel and remove any crumbles from the cork.