If your bottle has a screw cap, and you’re reading this article, then we’re sorry to say that you’re probably beyond our help. But if your bottle has a cork underneath foil wrapping, then this article is for you!
Corkscrew / Wine Key
Most of us are familiar with the waiter’s corkscrew (a.k.a, the wine key), which is what servers at restaurants use to open wine bottles table-side. You can find a good one for under $10 (or free from wineries if you happen to buy a lot), and we recommend a double-hinged model that allows for greater flexibility as you’re opening a bottle. This is the tool every sommelier and wine event company should be using.
Use the short serrated blade to cut off the foil at the top lip of the bottle (two horizontal strokes around the lip should do it), remove the foil, insert the screw in the middle of the cork, and use the hinges to lever the cork up, as seen in the video below.
And for the love of God, stay away from winged corkscrew wine openers! They are the worst.
Other Gadgets (Ah-So, Rabbit, Coravin)
Let us start off by saying, most of these gadgets are fun to have, awesome to receive as gifts, but probably not worth the cost of purchasing for yourself.
That being said, an Ah-So is handy to have around, especially if you’ve got older bottles with corks that may not have held up over time, whether due to improper storage, poor quality of cork to begin with, or some other reason. The last thing you want is a cork to crumble while you’re trying to open up a bottle. You can find one of these for $10-20, although there are plenty of fancier versions available, too.
You’ll notice that one prong is slightly longer than the other. Insert that end down the side of the cork first, followed by the other end, wiggling if necessary. And instead of pulling straight out, turn and pull simultaneously, as demonstrated by this video:
The Rabbit wine opener is a fan favorite, and why not? It’s fun, easy to use (lever up and down twice, and you’re done!), and a great conversation piece. The original is about $50, and there are several cheaper knock-offs out there. Our chief criticisms are: (1) it’s not as romantic as using the traditional wine key, (2) they’re large and bulky, and (3) it’s been our experience that they often break within a few years, so unless you got it as a gift, it’s not worth the cost, especially compared to a $3 wine key (or a free one!).
The Coravin has been a huge hit amongst wine enthusiasts, and some of our friends swear by them. It seems to have finally solved the problem of preserving a bottle of wine for several months that you don’t finish upon first taste. In theory, it works by inserting a very thin needle through the cork that allows the wine to pour out, and if there’s any wine left in the bottle after you’re done drinking, the cork is still in place and should “naturally reseal”. The problem is that sometimes it doesn’t reseal completely, though that may have more to do with the cork than with the product itself. The newer models run in the several hundred, but older models are as low as $140.
When it comes to sparkling wines, do NOT use a wine opener. Instead, remove the foil, unscrew the metal cage but leave it in place. With your non-dominant hand, grip the neck of the bottle and place your thumb on top of the cork and cage (and if it’s more comfortable, you can use a towel to cushion your hand), hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle and away from the possibility of hitting anyone, and twist the bottom of the bottle with your dominant hand. If you’ve done it correctly, the cork should not make a loud popping sound, but instead should be no louder than a nun’s fart, or as the French say, pet de nonne.
If you happen to have a saber, you can use that to open a sparkling wine bottle, as well.
The Infamous “Shoe Method”
But what if you don’t have a wine key or other fancy gadget on hand to open up a bottle of wine? This was a real-life scenario that played out for me in my first night in a new apartment before my boxes had arrived. Well, if you’re sober enough and brave enough, try the shoe method. I’ve tried it firsthand, and it definitely works (though you’ll burn some calories in the process – many videos make it seem like it’s an instantaneous process, but it’s not).
First, you’ll need a shoe. Sneakers or other types of soft-soled shoes work best.
Second, remove the foil from the bottle.
Third, place the bottom of the bottle inside the shoe, such that it’s perpendicular with the shoe (it should look like it’s standing in the shoe).
Fourth, take the shoe and bottle and strike the sole of the shoe against a wall or other vertical surface. The cork should slowly be pushed out of the bottle after each strike. Once it’s protruding enough, you can either pull it out by hand or use pliers to pluck it out.
Methods We DON’T RECOMMEND
There are actually plenty of other ways to open a bottle of wine without a wine key or other special device, but we don’t recommend them, in part, for safety reasons, and in part, because they could negatively impact the wine’s flavor. Thus, we DON’T recommend using a lighter or other flames to heat the neck of the bottle.
We also DON’T recommend pushing the cork inside the bottle, and we DON’T recommend using household keys or items you might find in your toolshed, especially if they’re rusty or have been used previously.