In search of the perfect corkscrew

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One of the best times I had during my recent trip to France was searching for a corkscrew in Avignon.  We had just spent a fantastic day in a wine cave in Chateauneuf du Pape and bought a bottle of 2006 Clos Saint Jean (75% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 4% Mourvedre, 3% Cinsault, 2% Vaccarese and 1% Muscardin) that we were ready to enjoy with our dinner that night.

Using my best broken French, I asked a kind gentleman at the local tabac how to say corkscrew in French.  To which he replied: tire-bouchon which literally means to tear the cork.

With this new information we were on our way to the nearest supermarket to pick up some items for a quiet dinner back at the hotel that night and started our search for the tire-bouchon.  We tried a drug store, a convenience store and a supermarket.  Making our way through the store, we found the sign for tire-bouchon but there were none left.  What, no wine openers in France?

We found a wine shop and thought they could help us but they didn’t open for another half hour and they certainly weren’t going to open up early for us tourists.  We made one last attempt at a local produce stand and they offered to open the bottle for us if we brought it back and made a purchase.

So a bit disappointed and tired, we headed back to the hotel.  On the way back, all I could do was picture all of the different corkscrews I had just sitting there 6,000 miles away.  This got me thinking, how did I get so many corkscrews and which would I choose to open my Chateauneuf if I were home right now…

I have tried just about all kinds of corkscrews and spent all sorts of money.  While it was not my intent to start a collection of these things, I now find that most of these devices are gathering dust while the simplest and cheapest is used most.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a wine opener.

Portable, easy to use and cost effective

My preferred wine opener is the waiter’s friend.  The waiter’s friend has quite a few things going for it.  First, it is small, easy to use and fits in your pocket.  You can use the small blade to cut the foil from the bottle before opening.  Flip out the corkscrew and insert it into the cork.  Brace the fulcrum against the lip of the bottle, and pull the cork out in a smooth motion. Simple. Easy.

Another cost effective and easy to use option is the “little man” sometimes called the ballerina or de Gaulle wine opener.  This is because the corkscrew resembles a head and dual arms on either side.  It is said that the corkscrew was given the de Gaulle name due to the fact that Charles de Gaulle often raised his arms when making his speeches much like the arms function on the opener.  This opener is my second favorite and is used by inserting the screw and twisting the top until the arms raise up, then you push the dual arms down which pulls the cork out of the bottle.

More expensive but still useful

A less portable option is the Screwpull.  This has a plastic piece that fits over the top of the bottle with the corkscrew in the middle.  The plastic structure holds things still, so as you rotate the corkscrew the cork slowly comes out of the bottle.

There is also a Screwpull Lever (sort of resembles a rabbit) which can easily be confused with the Screwpull, but is much more expensive.  This type of corkscrew clamps onto the bottle, and removes the cork with the single pull of a lever.  It is a very easy device to use, but normally not worth the price for the occasional wine bottle, unless you frequently open a large number of bottles at once.

Other tools out there

There are several types of less useful corkscrews out there. One typical kind is a two-prong corkscrew that doesn’t actually have a screw, but instead has two blades sticking out of it (sometimes called the ‘Ah So’).  The idea is that the two prongs get inserted along the sides of the cork in the bottle and then it twisted to pull the cork out.  The advantage of this style is that there is nothing puncturing the cork, so if the wine is older and the cork is brittle, this device may work.  Keep in mind though that the Ah So is much more likely to push the cork further into the bottle than get it out.

Other tools that may not work as well are corkscrews where the screw itself is too short or the thickness of the screw is too fat.  These screws are more likely to break the cork than extract it.  If it is too short, you end up only applying pressure to one end of the cork, which will therefore come out, leaving the other side of the cork in the bottle.  If the corkscrew is too fat it will cause more damage as you try to screw it in, making it more likely the cork will split or break.  If the screw takes up more space than the amount the cork can compress, that extra cork is going to have to go somewhere, and it will go exactly where you don’t want it…in your wine.

If you want to impress your friends or give a nice gift, you can buy a gorgeous filigreed wine opener from France but you can avoid breaking the cork and breaking the bank with some of the other models out there.  We finally did enjoy that bottle of wine in France but only after the hotel kindly offered to open it for free.  The most cost effective tire-bouchon I have found yet!

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