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Choosing a Corkscrew – So Many Choices, So Many Prices, So Much Hype

So we just selected the perfect wine, bought it on-line, and had it delivered.  We sat down to enjoy it and realized the top doesn?t unscrew.  It?s back to basics - what must one do to select and buy a corkscrew ? and why must it be so difficult? 

The notion of a corkscrew is simple; remove the cork from the bottle of wine. It's the necessary wine accessory. But with most everyday mechanical devices, you name it ? can opener, cheese grater, screwdriver - someone is always trying to improve what may already be the perfect ?mouse trap?.  In this case, improvements have come in the form of technologically improved materials, sleek engineering designs, and even a trend toward nostalgia (albeit with expensive materials).


Originally termed bottle-screws, corkscrews were an English invention from the mid-1600?s.  Generally T-shaped, and made from nearly every conceivable material, these devices relied on two things; 1) get the screw in the middle of the cork, and 2) pull like crazy.  Hopefully, the cork came out of the wine bottle in one piece ? or not. 

The first lever-style corkscrew was invented by a German civil engineer (and apparent wine lover) in 1883 and is the basis of the waiter?s corkscrew still found today in almost every restaurant.  One of the most popular corkscrew designs to buy in the modern age is the Screwpull, invented in 1979 by an oil field engineer.  Most designs rely on the central helix screw to pierce the cork and provide a basis for leverage upon removal.  The helix design is critical because as the needle point spirals down through the cork, the remainder of the helix follows the same path, thus minimizing damage to the cork. 

Another common design still in existence today is the rabbit-ear corkscrew that utilizes a solid, central shaft screw that plows through the center (hopefully) of the cork, which may actually tear apart the structure of the cork and cause bits of cork to drop into the wine bottle and potentially split and destroy the cork.  Not a pretty sight.

You can literally spend as little or as much as you like when you select and buy a corkscrew.  You can choose exotic designs and materials, and those that are all the rage.  But the purpose of the corkscrew is simple ? get the cork out of the bottle as efficiently as possible and with minimal cork destruction. 

We have tested all of the cork removal devices that we list in this article and commented where appropriate.  All of our picks work to remove the cork well.  Choosing a corkscrew is based on personal preference, but of course, we?ll tell you what?s our favorite.  Read on??

Laguiole Tortoise Corkscrew (International Wine Accessories - Item # CS280-008) ? a great looking waiter?s corkscrew with the look of real tortoise shell on the handle.  Works well, but when you buy, you?ll see it?s at the upper range of the price scale.

MetroKane Rabbit 6-Piece Corkscrew Kit (International Wine Accessories - Item# CS05-007) ? one of the newest style of corkscrews that require a minimum of effort to operate.  The Teflon helix screw glides easily into the cork and extraction is effortless.  One of the drawbacks is that some bottles today have a wax/polymer seal instead of a fitted neck band.  Repeated use can ?gum up? the Teflon coating and must be cleaned periodically.

Cork Jet  Pump Style Corkscrew (The Wine Enthusiast - Item# 438 28 01)
While not a screw-type device the pump-style cork extractor relies on a small pressurized canister of inert gas passing through a thin hollow needle inserted into the cork. There is inconsequential cork damage and the cork glides out of the bottle with an ear pleasing pop.  It?s a good corkscrew to choose if you feel many corks are stronger than you.  While it?s typical to get about 80 cork removals per canister, that also means you don?t know if you?re on bottle 75 or pushing the envelope on bottle 85 - so you?ll buy some spare canisters and keep them around.  If you have children, you?ll need to secure it out their reach as it could be dangerous in little hands.  (Editors note: There have been reports that bottles have been broken by this type of device when the cork is strongly embedded and there were glass impurities.)

Pulltap Double Hinged Waiter Style Corkscrew (The Wine Enthusiast - Item# 479 29)
We chose this simple but highly effective corkscrew as our ?buy favorite?.  Its price is not a budget buster and it has the features necessary to facilitate ease of use.  The Teflon coated screw is needle sharp and a breeze to insert into the cork with no damage.  The double hinged lever allows the cork to be extracted in manageable increments to prevent bending the cork when close to removal.  Overall, this corkscrew may be ?old school?, but great designs usually last the test of time.

- Michael Zanatta
Michael is a freelance writer and wine connoisseur whose family vineyards are in the Veneto region of Italy.


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