Fine Wine Writing by Jonathon Alsop

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My Favorite Corkscrew
by Jonathon Alsop
December 2000

My favorite corkscrew...As anyone who has ever skinned a cat will tell you, there may be more than one way to do it, but there's only one or two ways to do it right, and it only makes it easier if you have the right tools. How to successfully open a bottle of wine remains a mystery to many people: their problems are normally half technology and half physics.

My favorite corkscrew...First the technology problem: although there's essentially only one kind of wine bottle opening and one kind of cork, there are literally hundreds of different kinds of corkscrews, and that makes it confusing for the end-user/wine lover. Just when you think you're used to the long titanium model that drives the screw through a grip mount into the cork, along comes a wine needle that injects some noble gas beneath the cork and pushes it out using air pressure. Of course, when all else fails, you can always fall back on the original: a piece of wood or steel with a screw attached to it that you wrench into the cork and then yank out with all your might, spraying wine everywhere.

My favorite corkscrew...And the physics problem? A lot of corkscrews just don't work, especially the more elaborate and fabulous ones. My least favorite corkscrew is the kind that has these two silver wings that splay upward as you drive the screw into the cork. This may be a thing of beauty, but once the screw has completely destroyed the cork and the wings are pointing almost straight up, you grab the wings and push down, often pulling the cork out in dozens of crumbly pieces that fall into the wine. Performer Steven Seagal killed his nemesis with one of these corkscrews in the 1991 movie "Out For Justice," and the only way it could have been better is if he had turned the thing on himself.

My favorite corkscrew...My favorite corkscrew, on the other hand, is generically called the "waiter's" variety, and it combines the most simply useful elements of other devices into one tool. On one end is a tiny flip-out blade that can be used for cutting off the foil capsule, removing a price sticker, or carving your initials into a wine cask. On the other end is a lever that doubles as a bottle-opener (for when the world runs out of wine and we have to drink something else) as well as a brace that rests on the edge of the bottle to give you leverage when extracting the cork. The simple perfection of the waiter's corkscrew makes it easy to open a bottle of wine without setting it down on a tabletop; it is that much easier when you use the table like everyone else.

My favorite corkscrew...Brand names to look for are Messermeister or Chateau Laguiole in the $75 to $150 range. Perfectly functional but unbeautiful models with someone's logo on them are available for $10 and less in most wine shops.

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