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Corkscrews

Wednesday, 20 April 2011 | Tags: , , ,

When the cork comes out clean and easy, it makes enjoying your bottle of wine that much more relaxing. In fact, there are many different designs for corkscrews all geared toward avoiding the dreaded broken cork. How will these new-fangled styles compare to the waiter's favourite standby?

The Basics

  • There are many types of corkscrews of varying prices and operation, but they all should require little effort to use, keep the cork intact, and action of usage should not stir up sediment in bottle.

  • All good corkscrews have a helical “worm” with a thin, needle-sharp point that gets screwed into the cork. Look for a smooth helix rather than one with sharp edges. The helix design means that as the point spirals down through the cork, the rest of the worm follows the exact same path, minimizing damage to the surrounding cork cells and keeping it intact as you pull up.

  • The corkscrew’s material can make all the difference in how well it works and how long it lasts. Look for corkscrews made of metal, which lasts much longer than plastic or resin. Stainless steel and zinc are considered the best.

  • Look for something well-made, easy to use and relatively inexpensive. Unless you are considering a career in bartending, the $300 corkscrew is definitely excessive.

  • There is a corkscrew out there for every bottle of wine. Make sure you find a design that works for you:

    • The lever corkscrew can be very easy to use, with levers and gears to do all the twisting and tugging. Most models have two handles that clamp around the bottle’s neck and the worm is poised above the cork. Pulling the lever rotates the worm, driving it into the cork. Pulling the lever back lifts the cork out of the bottle. Downsides include bulkiness and cost.

    • The self-pulling or “screw-pull” corkscrew is a lever mechanism with a Teflon-coated worm, which reduces friction in the cork making it easier to screw. It’s a two-piece device: one looks like a clothes peg (often plastic) and the other is a handle with the worm. The outside device acts as an anchor and guides the worm into the cork, forcing the cork to climb up it and out of the bottle. It requires little or no effort.

    • The butterfly or wing corkscrew has a ratchet (notched wheel) that raises two levers (wings) in unison as you screw the worm into the cork. When the levers are raised as high as they will go, you press them down to ease the cork out of the bottle. This design requires a thicker worm, which can cause a fragile cork to crumble.

    • The t-bar corkscrew is a cheap gadget with a worm and a handle. You have to work pretty hard to get the cork out and it’s hard to get a good grip, turning the cork-removal process into a tug-of-war.

    • The waiter’s/bartender’s corkscrew is a flat, lever type object that resembles a Swiss Army Knife. The worm tucks into a notched area in the handle, and there’s often a hidden knife for cutting the wrapper, and a lever to help with extraction. Typically inexpensive, it folds up flat and small. However, they require about 50-100 pounds of pulling force to extract the cork, so technique is important. Insert the worm into the cork (foil removed) slightly off-centre and slowly spiral it down until it just pierces the other end of the cork. Position the lever on the rim of the bottle. Ease the cork straight upward without bending. Screw the worm a little deeper and ease it up again. When the cork is mostly out, grasp it gently and pull straight out.

    • A continuous turning corkscrew is similar to a self-pulling corkscrew and is generally easy to use. Make sure you get a good grip on the handle.

    • An air pump corkscrew looks like a pen. You push a syringe-type needle into the cork and pump the handle (a lot) to inject air into the bottle, forcing the cork out. These corkscrews aren’t good to use on damaged or oddly shaped bottles. Also, be sure to wrap the bottle in a towel before opening because there are concerns this corkscrew can cause the bottle to break if the cork doesn’t give.

    • The prong cork remover is more of a puller. There’s no metal work, but rather a handle grip and two flat metal blades, which slide down on either side of the cork. With a left-right rocking motion, you ease the prongs down until they grip the length of the cork, then pull upward, twisting, to extract. This corkscrew doesn’t damage the cork, but it takes practice. You can accidentally bend the prongs or push the cork into the bottle.

  • Many corkscrews also have an integrated bottle cap opener for beer and other drinks.

Other Considerations

  • If the wine is topped with a wax seal, make sure to remove before opening.

  • Cork loses strength and elasticity with age, so when opening an older bottle, use extra care to limit the amount of cork crumbs left floating in the wine

TEST CRITERIA

We took four different corkscrew styles into the A&K Test Lab and opened a whole whack of wine. (Luckily we tested how to best preserve wine on a previous show. In the freezer!) We tested:

  • Trudeau Trulever Corkscrew (lever style): $74.95
  Amazon.ca Amazon.com
  • Norpro Opal Deluxe Corkscrew (wing style): $39.99
. . Amazon.com
  • Oster Electric Wine Opener: $26.99
. . Amazon.ca Amazon.com
  • Swissmar Syncrho Double-Axle Waiter’s Corkscrew: $14
. . Swissmar Amazon.com

(Note: prices listed above are approximate and in Canadian dollars)

   

Uncorking Test

  • The Oster electric opener was super easy to use. It says it should open 30 bottles on one charge, but we found after 15 corks, it started to slow down. It is a bit bulky and would have to sit out on your counter in order to charge, and may not be the best option for picnics. Otherwise, if you have dexterity problems, it may be worth your money.

  • The Norpro wing style corkscrew is a design you see in many kitchens. Its circular neck harness helps you position the spiral in the centre of the cork, but the two arm action can be awkward to use, and if you don’t have much strength or dexterity, it may not work for you.

  • The Trudeau lever style corkscrew did a lot of the heavy lifting, but for the hefty price tag, we didn’t think it was worth it, unless you open a lot of bottles. (Since we tested the Trudeau, we’ve seen it for quite a bit cheaper at a little over $50, but it’s still pretty high.)

  • The Swissmar double-axle corkscrew is lightweight and favoured by waiters for its size and ease of use. It still requires some strength, and perhaps practice to get the spiral positioned just right, but it works well once you’ve mastered it, and the price is right for us.

OUR TOP PICK

Our clear winner for size and price was the Swissmar double-axle corkscrew. However, if you open a lot of bottles or have trouble wrestling with the simpler designs, the electric or lever style corkscrews may be right for you. 

 

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