I said that a good corkscrew should put the least amount of steel into
the cork, and grip the most amount of cork. I recommended the Waiter’s
style of corkscrew. How about other types of cork removers?
There’s a cork “lifter” that’s been around for years that has a hollow needle that you insert into the cork and then pump air into the bottle, either by a very awkward to use pump, or by pressing a button that releases carbon dioxide from a cylinder in the handle. The pressure, in theory, raises the cork, effortlessly.
Years ago I knew a waiter who just had to show off and use one of these magical devices to open a very old and expensive bottle. The cork was stuck firmly in place, so he gave it a second blast of gas, and then a third. The bottle cracked, the wine leaked out all over the table, while the cork remained stubbornly in place.
I know a few people who swear by a cork puller sold under the name “Ah So”, most of them lefthanders who aren’t comfortable with the standard waiter’s style corkscrew. To remove a cork using this one, the two thin steel blades are wiggled back and forth until they are all the way down the inside of the neck of the bottle, one on each side of the cork. Then you turn and lift, and the cork comes out. Not bad, once you get the hang of it.
The Rabbit came out years ago, and makes life easier for those of us who sometimes have to open dozens of bottles at a time. Two handles clamp around the neck of the bottle and are held in one hand while the other hand pushes a lever forward to pierce the cork. Pulling the lever back removes the cork from the bottle, and repeating the motions pulls the cork off the screw.
The entire operation takes about three seconds. The problem here is that it will not work with synthetic corks or composite corks, and can break the corkscrew if you try.
Why Synthetic Corks?
Corks aren’t cheap. They have to be hand harvested, and the increase in wine drinking means more corks are needed. Add to this the problem of “corked” wine.
Scientists have found that certain bacteria in corks can make wine go bad. If you have ever had a wine that smelled like a damp, dirty basement, or tasted musty, you’ve had a corked wine. Cork producers have tried everything from boiling and bleaching to microwaving their corks to prevent this (At least 3 out of every 100 bottles is corked!) but so far nothing has worked perfectly. Use cork, take your chances.
Since the mid 1980s, more winemakers have been switching to synthetic corks to prevent this problem. Synthetics, though, can be difficult when it comes to opening your wine, sometime refusing to give when you’re trying to get them off of your corkscrew.
Quite a few wine makers have been responding by using twist-off caps, and it’s a bit amazing at how quickly many top quality houses have embraced this idea. Since most of the wine that we buy is drunk within a few days of purchase, I don’t have a problem with twist offs. For cellaring, though, I’m sticking with the old tried-and-true and hanging onto my corkscrew.