Conquering the cork has been a big frustration for wine drinkers, especially when you don't have a corkscrew handy. Creative inventors have used air, levers, metal strips and screws to plow through to the juice, but when faced with all these choices, what's an overwhelmed wino to do? Experiment. Everyone's got an opinion about which corkscrew rules, so I convened an assemblage of wine drinkers to uncover the best and brightest.
You've probably seen the funny looking corkscrew with arms, resembling a person descending upon the bottle. It's called a "Wing Type Corkscrew." Besides the fact that it resembles an S&M toy, its efficacy is questionable since it rips corks, leaving little brown floaties in your wine. To avoid this, make sure the corkscrew has a worm (the screw-like prong which bores into the cork) at least 2 to 3 inches long. These retail for under $10.
The tried-and-true "Waiter's Corkscrew" has recently undergone a facelift. This pocketknife look-alike has a foldout lever and worm, but the updated version sports two notches on the lever. After testing both versions, we liked the improvements: the first notch provides the initial oomph for pulling most of the cork out, and the second finishes the job. This implement proved superior for fat-lipped, flanged-type bottles as well as for extracting broken corks. Costs under $10.
The air pump corkscrew frightens me. Beware of getting whacked in the face while using this device that works like a basketball pump. You insert the air needle into the cork, penetrating all the way through. Then, using the palm-held pump, you push air underneath the cork, forcing it out of the bottle. The cork normally flies out like that on a Champagne bottle, with the hazardous air pump in tow. Other negatives: it doesn't like tight corks and can give you a cramp in your forearm from pumping. But, it preserves the condition of the cork. Sells for under $10.
There's a funny contraption branded the "Ah-So," since one's usual reaction to it is, "Ah ... so that's how it works." Difficult to master, the Ah-So is fashioned from two heavy-duty metal strips that clasp both sides of the cork inside the bottle. Then you extract the cork by turning and pulling it out. Ah-So masters are the fastest draw on the cork. I've witnessed two "cork pull" contests (a wine geek's tractor pull), where the Ah-So smoked all other corkscrews in the speed category, but it took plenty of practice to get that far. Costs around $8.
Still another elaborate device, originally called "The Rabbit" since it somewhat resembles a rabbit with big ears, manages to trump Ah-So's speed. The Rabbit effortlessly pops a cork in as fast as three seconds: You fasten the contraption over the top of the bottle, pull the lever down, and then lift it back up with the cork hanging on. The process takes a couple of attempts to master and it's not cheap ($25-$120, depending on brand), but worth the bucks if ultra-fast access to wine is a top priority.
I've often mentioned how useful the tabletop Screwpull corkscrew is — in its simplicity, size and effectiveness. And I still agree after trying other competitors, but it's pricey ($30), so not for everyone. It operates using an arched piece of plastic straddling a 5-inch worm coated with Teflon; you simple keep screwing the worm into the cork until it's removed. Pretty nifty, and fits nicely in any drawer, unlike the bulky Rabbit type.
CANYON ROAD 2000 MERLOT Spicy blackberry soaking into the tongue. A bit tannic, but very nicely done. Not a wimpy Merlot. Easy on the wallet too. ($8) $$$ 1/2
LOCKWOOD 2000 CHARDONNAY Smooth grooves from this silky, subtly oaky wine. Chock full of nicely acidic citrus flavors, and certainly not your typical California Chard. ($16) $$$$