How to Choose the Best Corkscrew?

by Joseph C. Paradi

Introduction

No wine lover has ever avoided the problems caused by a poorly functioning corkscrew and we have bad memories attached to these failures.  We all had the experience of watching a waiter/waitress struggling with the corkscrew and have us pray that the wine will be OK after all the work. So we ask ourselves how to buy a corkscrew that will work the best, even for the fairer sex, if she is stuck without a Martian (us men) to delegate the bottle opening job to. Let me address the problem and give some recommendations.

First of all, what makes a good corkscrew? Aside from the obvious job of removing the cork, what other important issues are there?

1. The work should require as little brute force as possible
2. The cork should be kept intact – no shredding, breakage, etc.
3. The screw should go in straight to avoid breaking the cork or the screw
4. The pulling action should not shake up the bottle to avoid disturbing the sediment, if any, there
5. Must do the job safely (no explosions, cracked glass, broken corkscrew, etc.)
6. It has to fit all types of bottle necks, including the new flanged types

There are a number of modern corkscrews that address some or all of these needs. It should be understood that there are thousands of corkscrew designs (better call them cork removers because some do not have "screws") from the simple "T" to elaborate mechanical devices. It is also interesting that since the discovery of bottles for wine in the 1600’s, people have been busy inventing corkscrews that solve the above list of complaints by wine lovers. While there are several thousand patents world-wide on various cork pullers, there are just a handful of major classifications of corkscrews. Some of these rely on levers, gears, threads, gas pressure, hooks and prongs and rack and pinion mechanisms.  For more information on corkscrew classifications, click here: SCReW.

One more thing, be cautious when you buy the new corkscrew, make sure that the screw part is not a fat Archimedian screw shown here because if the cork is at all dry or it is a long one, the screw may just drill a hole in the cork and then pop out without pulling the cork.  

 So lets see where this gets us in today’s corkscrew shop.

Clearly, we still have available simple "T" type corkscrews where we just screw the worm into the cork and pull for all we are worth.  There are an infinite variety of handles, shaft decorations and buttons on these pieces, they come in various sizes and at all kinds of costs.  Some are handsome, some are silver handled, some are ugly, but they all do the job when enough brawn is at hand.  I won't bother illustrating this type since all of you will have seen them, so I just added a small icon for a corkscrew on the left.

The Screwpull and "friends" are my choice for a manual corkscrew to be used at the table at home. Herb Allen invented the Screwpull in, and patented it world-wide, the U.S. Patent 4,276,789 was granted on July 7, 1981 (see on the left). The main innovation here was a long, strong screw made of relatively thin but strong wire that was coated with Teflon. The plastic frame is used to center the screw as the frame is held tightly around the bottle’s neck. If executed well, the screw enters the cork’s center and when it is completely in the cork, each turn of the handle moves the cork up by a pitch distance of the screw. This design is used in numerous Screwpull knock-offs and should be available in any good wine or hardware store.  In fact, Allen’s patent was attacked by others and the court found that he used something "obvious" which really should not be patentable. If you want to know more about his patent fights, see one of my webpages at: http://www.corkscrewnet.com/EllisCsinCourt.htm. Brand names to look for are: Brabantia, Zyliss, Bar-Tech and many others as seen here:

The Double lever corkscrew is also well known by most wine lovers, this is a good one!

This two handled Italian patented corkscrew is a device that uses a gear and rack mechanism to turn the handles into efficient levers when pulling the cork.  Here, you see four examples of this popular corkscrew, the first is a very handsome Italian piece by Alessi, a really talented design house; the second is an old ('50's era) all brass piece, also Italian.  Next to it is a modern, mostly plastic material, made by Pedrin, another Italian corkscrew manufacturer.  Finally, here is the OXO brand all plastic corkscrew which is specially designed for people who have arthritis or other hand related problems.

A somewhat intriguing device is the "prong" type cork puller, shown here (the Wiggle & Twist). The first question is: "how does this work?" The prongs, typically uneven lengths, are slid down between the cork and the bottle neck by tilting the handle in a rocking sense back and forth until the prongs are completely inserted. Now, turning the handle in either direction breaks the cork away from the glass and then it comes out with a turning and pulling motion. The cork is intact and can be put back into the bottle if you don’t drink all of the wine. And for you lefties, this works your way too!  Here are some examples of this type, most of which have some sort of sheath or prong protector to guard both the prongs and the user from each other.  Overall, these cork pullers can do a great job and cost very little, but you must develop a skill to use them effectively.

The best known German "AH-So" made by Monopol. A run of the mill piece available for a few dollars in any wine store. A cheaper plastic version marked: THE TUF The very rare early Mumford Patent, U.S.A.  A very desirable antique.

There are a number of hand held corkscrew machines available in the market today.  Here are some examples.  While these are more expensive than the foregoing bunch, they may well be worth the cost - the ladies love their ease of use.  All of these have bottle clamps that holds the bottle neck in the corkscrew for ease of handling.  The lever, typically swings over the top, takes the cork out in a couple of easy movements.  These are great pieces and work really well.  For more information click here

The "Leverpull" by Le Creuset

The "Rabbit" by Metrokane

William Sonoma's "Vignetto"

The "Perfecto", a Spanish corkscrew.

Then, here we have a barscrew, which is a bona-fide cork pulling "machine" that is used in wine bars where hundreds of bottles are opened each day. This is a real productivity tool as the bar tender makes a couple of handle movements and the cork is out and removed from the corkscrew also. An older one of these is called the "Shamrock" shown here.  These machines were more prominent in the past because the crown cap, commonly used to close beer bottles, was invented only in 1896.  Prior to that event, even beer bottles were corked, so there were a lot of corks to pull.  But even today, wine bars feature these interesting pieces because they have a need and they also serve as conversation pieces.  New ones are available, trade names are: RAPID, VINTNER and others.  Restaurants do not have these any more because the sommeliers and servers now open the bottles at the table with some ceremony; smelling of the cork and tasting the wine, etc. are part of the "show".

We have all seen the "Waiter’s" corkscrew used by most of the men and women who serve the wine, usually in a meal setting.  This device relies on the leverage principle and we call it a "Single Lever".  The screw is manually screwed into, hopefully, the center of the cork. Then, the bottle rest is placed onto the lip of the bottle and the long end of the corkscrew is lifted up giving a 2 to 3 fold advantage. Some designs are over-the-top and here the long handle is pushed down. The piece folds into a neat little package that is easily pocketed when not used. It should be noted that Waiters’ corkscrews could be quite hard to use, especially with a long cork and a poorly designed corkscrew. The best of these is a two step corkscrew where the neck rest is articulated or has some other mechanism that provides two "steps" as seen here. The first, short, step is used to pull cork half way out and then the longer step finishes the job. This is important because the nature of the Waiters’ corkscrew is that as the leverage is applied and the cork moves, the vertical line of the screw in relation to the cork changes and much of the effort needed during the second half of the cork removal is used to compress the cork against the bottle neck. There are other ways to solve this problem but this would go into some boring technical expose that you would not likely be interested in.
This is the plainest Waiter's corkscrew and is the poorest performer because it is unable to adjust for the angular deflection caused by the lever rotation. This piece also has the horse-shoe looking device at the end that gently eases the champagne cork out.  Of course, the rest functions as a regular Waiter's corkscrew.
This is my favorite!  It works well, the two step design eliminates the screw deflection and pulls the cork with ease.  There are a couple of other designs as well, so look for them.
Just to show an antique piece, here is a German made "mermaid" Waiter's corkscrew from the turn of the Century and later.

But, to answer the original question: "which one?", I use a genuine Screwpull (see the picture on the left) with a built in foil cutter (marked "C") which makes the whole job a "piece of cake".  My second choice is the two-step model shown above, this Waiter's corkscrew works well!.  You can find one or two other designs, but the main thing is the two step/stage feature.  Third choice is the Rabbit shown above, it is easy to handle even for folks with disabilities.  But don't take wrong, there are many other good corkscrews available for sale, I just like these because they proved to work reliably and are easy to use.

Today, there are modern corkscrews and many reproductions of old standards. In another article I will talk about the fact that most new ideas are modern reworks of innovations a couple of hundred years old.

To find a friendly site where corkscrews can be bought on the net, there is a good list of these shops at: LINKS or using the search engine. Good luck and enjoy the fruit of your labors now that you got the corkscrew that works!.


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