By Dan Berger

One of the greatest advances in wine packaging over the last decade or so has been the use of screwcaps to seal bottles of wine that are intended for immediate consumption.

The twist-off aluminum cap now so widely used has the wonderful advantage of making wine accessible to people who do not like to use corkscrews, or do not know how to use a corkscrew.

Which apparently is a lot more people than the industry was ever willing to admit existed before the screwcap came along.

Corkscrews and other wine openers have been in use since the bark of the cork oak tree was developed as a closure for wine hundreds of years ago, and that practice has continued for most fine wine today.

Occasionally called a wine key, a corkscrew can come in several different configurations, and the best of them is a Teflon coated helix.

Similar to this is the one-piece machined spiral cork puller, occasionally seen with twin arms that may be simultaneously pulled down while the guide stays firm against the lip of the bottle while the cork is withdrawn.

One rather clever gadget uses the helix along with a top positioned lever that allows for the corkscrew to be inserted into the cork and then the handle depressed while the cork is removed. 

In one particular marketing coup, one manufacturer has designed this as a “rabbit wine opener” in which the rabbit’s ears are pulled down to remove the cork.

When attempting to remove the cork from a particularly old bottle of wine (10 years or more), it is always a good idea to remember that cork is a living product and has a tendency to deteriorate rapidly.

In particular, wines from modest producers who chose to use less expensive cork material can often have corks that fail after just a few years.

In such a case the standard waiter’s corkscrew, which has a two-step lever action, can actually be a complete disaster since there is always the risk that the helix could grab only the interior of the cork while the side of the cork remains fixed to the bottle. Pulling too quickly can tear the cork to shreds or shards, making for a complete mess.

One gadget that has proven successful with slightly older corks is known as the Ah-So Cork puller, a two-pronged device in which the longer prong is inserted along the side of the cork between a cork and the neck of the bottle, and then the shorter shaft is inserted on the other side of the cork.

By grasping the oval handle and twisting slowly, the cork can be removed without too much trouble.

This usually works fine for slightly deteriorated corks, but with very old bottles a combination of the helix and the Ah-So should be used.

Only one brand of this device is commonly being sold. And although it is expensive, the Durand has proven itself invaluable since the prongs deal with the exterior of the cork and the helix deals with the center at the same time.