Corkscrew Caper

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Without intending, you've already committed a cardinal party-thrower sin - you're taking way too long to get the cork out of the first bottle of party wine.  I can picture the scene perfectly:  With your guests waiting impatiently in the living room, you curse silently to yourself as you struggle to insert the twisty metal prong into the cork, then guide the wings on either side upwards in a perfectly synchronized gliding motion.  Your reward for executing this challenging set of moves should be a neatly removed cork and sustenance for the thirsty revelers about to undergo party–goer mutiny in the next room.

Unfortunately, after several attempts all you have to show for your efforts are a few pieces of miserably crumbled cork and rapidly rising blood pressure (not to mention some seriously disgruntled guests).

Tricks of the trade
Been here before?  Well relax, because so has pretty much everyone else reading this blog.  That's right, anyone worth his party-throwing stuff can tell you that this first, simple task – getting the cork out of the bottle – isn't always as easy as it's made out to be.  Whether it's a straightforward-seeming winged corkscrew like the one referenced above or a super-technical rabbit version that you're using, there are sure-fire tricks to working successfully with all of these gadgets. 

Read on for just that, so that you can appear the flawless hostess next time — and spare yourself from a hostile takeover under your own roof.

Winged 'screws
Winged corkscrews come with an exposed worm — the twisty metal or Teflon piece that you drive into the cork — situated between two metal wings that you pull upwards to draw the cork out of the bottle.  Because winged ‘screws are inexpensive and widely available, they're some of the most frequently used — and abused — openers out there.

Much of the problem has to do with the fact that these don't readily allow for easy manipulation of the worm when it's first inserted into the cork.  As a result, the trick to successfully using a winged ‘screw lies in your ability to firmly insert its worm into the cork.  For the best results, start by drawing the wings upward and grasping them in one hand along with the top portion of the worm mechanism; with the other hand, guide the worm securely into the middle of the cork surface.  Once the worm is firmly inside the cork, release the wings and continue twisting the worm until most of it disappears inside the cork.  Finally, draw the wings slowly upwards while the bottle rests on a sturdy level surface.  The cork should come out easily.

Rabbits & such
Rabbit corkscrews are the hefty, often black devices that use a lever mechanism to take the elbow grease out of the opening equation.  Trouble is, rabbits not only take up a ton of unnecessary room in your kitchen, they're among the most difficult–to–figure–out 'screws on the market!  But, if you do choose to invest in one (or receive one as a non-returnable gift), it can pay to take a little time to figure out how to use the darn thing.

The upside to cumbersome rabbits is that they often come with a handy foil-cutting device (part of the bells and whistles portion of your purchase). Use this to remove the foil cap from your wine with a quick pinch and twist around the top of the bottle.  Next, position the worm portion of your rabbit over the cork, and close the handles around either side of the worm until the device forms a snug vice-like hold on the neck of the bottle.  Grasping the now-conjoined ends of the handles firmly with one hand, lift the top lever mechanism up and away from you until the cork is pulled cleanly from the bottle.  Then, release the vice grip from the neck and pour away; you can eject the cork simply by repeating the motion in reverse, without the bottle underneath. 

Waiter widgets
My own top choice for cork removal, the waiter's corkscrew is one that folds up compactly (to fit into a waiter's pocket, natch), doesn't cost much and works efficiently time and again.  Widely available for less than $10, the waiter's corkscrew consists of a basic worm and lever attached to a tiny retractable knife that's used to remove the foil from the top of bottles. 

How does it work?  First, use the knife to cut around the top of the foil cap just above the lip of the bottle (this is the part that protrudes outward near the bottle's opening), then peel the foil away to expose the cork.  Grasping the bottle firmly with one hand, guide the worm into the cork with the other, and use this same hand to then twist the worm all the way into the cork.  Next, secure the lever extension (this is usually a steel or chrome piece that tilts down towards the cork) to the lip of the bottle; place a hand firmly on top of where it joins the bottle to ensure a non-slip pull.  Finally, slowly pull upwards on the lever, which should extract the cork from the bottle. 

While this method does requires some brute strength (a double-lever extension alleviates some of this), it's the most sure-fire and efficient method I've found for cork removal, to date. 

Stay tuned for more tips.

contributed by:  Courtney Cochran

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