Dinner is in the oven and you’re opening the wine. You reach for the corkscrew. Obviously, the aim is to remove the cork quickly and without damaging it or pushing it into the bottle. But there’s a bit more to it than that. Over the years, all kinds of contraptions have been used to uncork wine. Some of them make life easier but are expensive while others do what you want them to – open your bottle – at a fraction of the cost. The amount of money you can spend on something so simple was underlined recently when an American helixophile – the name for a corkscrew collector – paid a whopping $23,000 for a sought-after item at auction. That’s not quite on a par with the eye-popping record sums paid for some wines, but it’s still serious cash.
There have been loads of changes, some for the better and some less so, since Rev Samuel Henshall patented the corkscrew in 1795 after fitting a piece, known as a Henshall Button, to stop the screw boring too deeply into the cork. The general rule is that the more you spend the more effective the tool will be. The simplest, and cheapest, corkscrews comprise a handle and a screw – known as the worm – and cost a few pounds. At the other extreme, and priced at hundreds of pounds, are complex tools that can remove a glass of wine from the bottle without actually pulling out the cork.
In between come numerous variations on the basic theme. Add a lever and a foil cutter and you have what’s often referred to as a waiter’s friend. Even easier to use, and just a little more expensive, is a winged version where the sides pop up as the worm is screwed into the cork. Then come the fancier tools. Levers and electric corkscrews look cool and should be more effective. But some are not so great when it comes to pulling out synthetic corks. At the top end devices aimed at preserving expensive wines when you don’t want to drink the whole bottle. The best known is the Coravin that allows you to have a glass yet will keep the wine in good condition until you want to taste it again.
So, there are several factors that should come into play when it comes to picking the best option. For some people, the most important is size – it must fit into a pocket, although being easy to use is the main requirement for most of us. But, if the corkscrew is on show along with other kitchen implements, style will also come into play. And then, of course, the price will be a consideration for many people. If that all sounds too complicated, you can stick to screw tops which are now being used on good quality wines. Or, failing that, just pop the cork on a bottle of champagne!