How to open a bottle!
Sometimes the "wine expert" at the party is the one who knows how to open the bottle. Many wine drinkers don't face this question because they never need to; they unscrew the cap or push the spigot on a bag-in-the-box. But if you have trouble opening wine that comes in a bottle with a cork in it, read on.
There are dozens if not hundreds of devices to get the cork from the bottle. Corkscrews can come with a screw shaped like a carpenter’s wood screw, or a helix (looks like DNA). Get one with a helix; you’ll get a better grip. Leaving the niceties of the operation to the sommeliers for now, the first thing no matter what corkscrew you use is to get the capsule off. You can take the knife-edge and, circumnavigating, decapitate the capsule at the lip. Or, you can just slide it off in many cases. Or just start a cut at the bottom of the capsule with a knife and peel it off.
The most commonly seen is the “waiter’s” or “captain’s” corkscrew, complete with knife-edge, a helix, and a lever all folded into the body. After taking off the capsule, take the pointy helix and start it as closely to the center of the top of the cork as possible. Slowly twist the helix in. With practice you’ll know when to stop (so as not to pierce the bottom end of the cork and possibly force some of it into the bottle). Once you’re ready to pull the cork out, let the lever out so it can touch the lip of the glass. Grasp it (so it doesn’t chip the glass by slipping off) and lift the other end of the corkscrew, drawing out the cork. Piece o’ cake.
If you have what is called a “Screwpull”, it’s even easier. Just take the “clothespin” part of it and place it over the neck. Then insert the helix part through the top of the clothespin. It automatically centers itself at the cork, so just keep on twisting clockwise.
You may have seen the “winged” corkscrew, the one with the wings that must be pushed down to extract the cork. They’re neat looking but remember that most have a literal screw and also lack the length on that screw to grab those bottles with long corks.
Lastly, the “ahso,” the corkscrew that is not a corkscrew. Its two tines are meant to be inserted one after the other (longer one first) between the cork and the glass. Using a seesaw motion, you carefully force the tines as far as they can go, twist them to get a grip and pull up. They’re actually easy to use but intimidating to tackle.
Don’t let frustration with opening the bottle keep you from enjoying wine. There is an opener for everyone. The trick is finding the one that works best for you.
"The books alone just didn't help." With that, Patrick W. Fegan traveled to Burgundy to work the harvest of 1971. He stayed nearly a year in various regions of France fleshing out at what the books only hinted. Since then he has visited the vineyards of five continents. In 1984 he opened Chicago Wine School; in 1990 he published The Vineyard Handbook and in 1998/99 contributed the Midwest section to the Oxford Companion to the Wines of North America. In addition to contributing to wineanswers.com, he currently is the wine columnist for the Chicago Tribune.
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