It seems strange that it has taken me almost a year to address something so symbolic of wine. But the fact is that more producers are choosing to seal their wines under screwcap, gradually reducing the need for the traditional corkscrew.
As well as making wine more easily accessible, wines under screwcap have a much lower occurrence of cork taint, which is significant when you consider anything from 0.7-7% of wines could be tainted.
The traditional cork is unlikely to be completely eliminated, if only due to people wanting to preserve the romantic image that is associated with it. After so long, the act of pulling a cork from the bottle has become something like a rite, a critical act in a codified ritual, and some may feel that the wine experience is somehow incomplete without it.
High-end producers are more likely than others to continue using natural cork, wanting to avoid the suggestion that wines under screwcap are somehow of lesser quality, and they are willing to accept the cost of higher rates of cork taint to preserve their image of prestige.
While there are many weird and wonderful designs for corkscrews, there are three main types that I have found to be the most relevant:
1. Wing corkscrews
Sometimes also referred to as “rabbit corkscrews”, this particular design is very simple to use. Once the corkscrew is worked into the cork, all you have to do is apply pressure to the two levers and the cork comes out easily.
I recommend having one of these at home for ease of use, where no one will judge you or think that you are only using it because of your incompetence with the sommelier’s knife. But you wouldn’t invite such a person to your home anyway, would you?
2. Sommelier’s knife
The all-in-one solution, most sommelier’s knives have a small blade to cut the foil capsule of the wine, revealing the cork underneath. One then simply inserts the steel worm into the cork and applies the lever to the lip of the bottle, slowly but firmly easing the cork out.
It takes practice to use the sommelier’s knife properly. Inserting the worm off-centre is a common issue, which can cause the cork to break near the side, weakening it and possibly causing you to break the cork. If you don’t have a firm grip, the lever can slip off the lip of the neck, causing awkwardness at best and breakage at worst.
But when you become used to handling it, there is something undeniably stylish and cool behind the act of smoothly and deftly using the sommelier’s knife to open up a wine. It is almost like a martial art, where you can feel that you have executed the perfect punch, a flawless kick, or an ideal throw.
3. Twin-prong cork puller
For very old wines where you might doubt the strength of the cork closure the twin-prong cork puller, sometimes referred to as the “Ah-so”, is recommended. The reason is because it does not damage the cork. Rather, you pinch the cork between it’s prongs by gradually working the thin metal between the cork and the neck of the bottle. Once the prongs are fully inserted, the cork can be gently twisted out.
As a bonus, it is actually possible to reseal a wine by reversing the process – insert the cork between the prongs before pushing it back into the neck. If you plan to do this to preserve a wine after tasting, I recommend you use some argon gas to reduce the effects of oxidation.
As with all the previous essentials, I have attempted to apply the concepts of function and form. The wing corkscrew is definitely functional, but the sommelier’s knife is a more complete tool in a smaller package, requiring only a little practice and skill. The twin-prong wine puller is an equally functional and simply designed implement for older wines with weaker corks.
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