Whenever we went to dinner at someone’s house, I felt compelled to offer an alternative if I saw the host struggling with an unsavory corkscrew. Take my friends Tom and Sue, for example: When I first met them, they were opening bottles of wine with one of those butterfly corkscrews with two levers that pulls the corks out as many times as they pull them out. At our next meeting, I brought them a corkscrew from Richartz’s server. Ten years later, Tom and Sue are still using it.
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I’ve been thinking a lot about this indispensable wine tool lately. I use three different Laguiole waiter’s corkscrews at home, one of them has the name of Robert M. Parker, Jr. engraved on it. (A wine critic gave it to me when I visited his home in Maryland years ago). And while these corkscrews have undeniably opened hundreds of bottles with ease, I wondered if I should try a new one. I may have overlooked an even better feature.
Marilyn Gelfman Karp, a world-class corkscrew collector – aka Glyxophile – was one of my inspirations. There are 700 corkscrews in the Carp collection, corkless base: Corkscrew Collection (Abbeville Press), written by Ms. Karp and Jeremy Franklin Brook. Mrs. Karp began collecting in 1963, when she bought a cheap plastic corkscrew in the gadgets section of a grocery store. Her first serious instrument came a year later, when she bought a zigzag corkscrew, a 1920s French model whose frame unfolds like an accordion to extract the cork. It made me curious because it was so beautiful, but too complicated for a seemingly simple task, she wrote in an email. It was Rube Goldberg who took the cap off.
I asked several winemakers what their favorite corkscrews were.
Thanks to Ms. Karp’s book, I learned that the first patent for a corkscrew was granted in 1795 to an Englishman, Samuel Henshall, for a device similar to today’s single T corkscrew. I was surprised to learn that folding corkscrews were made as early as the 1880s. Ms Karp has many seductive ones, including one in the shape of a mermaid and another with lever legs, with pink and white celluloid stockings and boots with metal toes.
I was wondering, with so many corkscrews to choose from, does Ms. Karp use one each time or does she rely more on one device? She referred me to page 156 of her book, where I found a picture of her implement: a cast nickel-plated steel English corkscrew from 1898 that she keeps on the sideboard of her dining room, a beautiful and rather important decoration.
Not wanting to buy anything grand or luxurious, I opted for more plebeian and practical tools. Before making my purchases, I asked some wine professionals which corkscrews they had chosen.
Most sommeliers I know prefer a simple type of corkscrew, called a wine key (or sommelier’s knife or waiter’s friend), a pocket knife-like instrument with a folding corkscrew and a lever that sits on the rim of the bottle to help pull the cork out, plus a small knife to cut through the foil. Luke Tusley of Troubadour Wine Bar in Minneapolis told me he relies on Truetap’s cheap wine key, which costs $5 or less if you buy it in bulk. They rarely break and are fairly inexpensive, he noted, important features if you open 90 bottles in an evening, as Mr. Bauer does. Tousley often did this on busy nights (before the advent of the Covids).
The sommelier was winemaker Andre Houston Mac of Maison Noir Wines, a winery in Oregon that admires the longevity of the Cartailler Deluc wine key. He uses a stainless steel model that costs about $30. Winery owner David Ramey of Ramey Wine Cellars in Healdsburg, California, also uses this style – Laguiole (see #1 above) or cheap Pulltap corkscrew. He recommends always screwing the coil fully into the spark plug. I often see servers start shooting with a quarter spiral still open – a good way to break the cap. For wines older than a decade, whose corks can be a bit sharp, he uses Durand, whose two-pin design holds the outside of the cork.
Just for fun, I contacted a winemaker in New Zealand, a country where almost all bottles have a screw cap. Do you even have a corkscrew? I asked Alastair Maling, head winemaker/head winemaker of
Sir, I want to thank you for your support. Mr Maling said he had a few corkscrews, but admitted they were hard to find in a typical New Zealand house. I know how many times I picked up a bottle with a cork and we had to search for a long time for a corkscrew, he wrote in an email. Now he keeps a corkscrew in his car, just in case. He also sent me a picture of a fish-shaped corkscrew, which he likes but doesn’t use often.
The fish corkscrew was fun, but also looked a lot like the corkscrew my friends Tom and Sue used. And the $125 Durand corkscrew Mr. Ramey preferred seemed a bit pricey. Instead, I bought another Belwares Ah So two-pin bottle opener ($18; see #4 above). It came in a nice box and was invaluable for removing a cork stuck in the neck of a bottle.
I also bought a Twister Easy-Turn corkscrew ($13; see #3 above), similar in design to the popular Screwpull corkscrew from 1979. The Twister is easy to use and inexpensive, and it immediately landed on the pile of bottle openers I always gather up to give to my friends when we get together.
The much larger and more expensive Rabbit costs about $50 for the basic version. I didn’t buy it because it turned out my husband was hiding it. It reminded me of how I once tried, long ago: You said you hated it. I tried again and got the same feeling. It was uncomfortable and difficult.
The last bottle opener I tried, the Oster Silver electric bottle opener ($20; see #2 above), was certainly easy to use: A switch makes the mechanism go up and down. It had to be loaded, and the noise it made caught the attention of our barking corgis. But my gadget-loving husband liked this electric model.
I was happy with these easy-to-use and inexpensive options, but my experiences with other bottle openers have made me appreciate my trusty laguoles even more. Which got me thinking: Did I at least contact Mr. Parker about what he gave me? I couldn’t remember, so I wrote him a note. Sir, I want to thank you for your support. Parker seemed surprised that I still had it and that it hadn’t worn out yet. Do you open enough bottles of wine? He asked. If you’ve worn out your model, let me know. Apparently, Mr. Parker believes that not only are good bottles best shared with friends, but so are good corkscrews.
OPEN SEASON / Corkscrew for every style of oenophile
F. Martin Ramin/Wall Street Journal; Serge Bloch (illustration)
1. For a traditionalist
Laguiole corkscrew wine waiter in Aubrac olive wood
Practical, durable and beautiful, the Laguiole corkscrew from the famous French cutlery company is also an excellent choice. 250, williams-sonoma.com
2. For Gadget Geek
Oster Silver Electric Bottle Opener
Just press a button to remove the plug. It’s about as fun a toy as a corkscrew. $20, bedbathandbeyond.com.
3. For the price conscious buyer
Twister easy turn corkscrew
A corkscrew that lives up to its name: It doesn’t get any easier than that. Blissfully simple design, and cheap too. $13, truebrands.com
4. For distributor
Belwares Ah So Bottle opener
This two-pin device is the best tool for gently removing delicate (possibly crumbling) corks from older bottles. $18, belwares.com
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