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Top Tips for Opening Bottles With Tricky Corks

Happily for most of the wine we deal with day-to-day, screw cap is the norm and we are presented with few problems getting liquid from the bottle into the glass. But there are still plenty of bottles under cork, and these often tend to be the older vintages or special bottles. Getting an older cork out of a nice of bottle wine is not always an easy or pleasant experience. The following tips should help you out of most sticky situations.

Champagne corks

Champagne and sparkling wine corks are usually the easiest to remove, as the pressure inside the bottle helps in pushing the cork out. All you really need to do is remove the foil and cage (always six half-twists on the tie) and keep a thumb on the top of the cork in case it’s eager to get out. Twist the bottle away from the cork gently, decreasing your force as the cork begins to come out. The cork should come out with a gentle hiss. Of course, if you don’t have time for all that there’s always the saber.

A successful champagne sabering, not really recommended

Removing a broken cork

Corks are a natural product and the degree to which they degrade over time varies a great deal.  If your first attempt at removing the cork breaks it, don’t panic. Check how much cork is left in the neck, if it’s around half then you can try gently for a second attempt with the screw. If that doesn’t work, push the remains of the cork down into the body of the bottle. If the cork is untainted, this won’t affect the bottle and you can sift out any cork particles (see below). If the cork is affected then the wine will also be tainted. The bottle was ruined long before you broke the cork, so don’t worry about it!

bottle cork

Often called a wine knife, a waiter’s friend, a corkscrew, or a tire-bouchon, it’s the sommelier’s best friend

Decanting and sifting

Decanting is useful for taking a wine off its sediment, and this can include pieces of cork, ensuring each glass you pour is free from debris. You can use almost any vessel, and may wish to employ a clean sieve, cheesecloth or coffee filter to catch any solids, depending on what size they are. See our article about decanting for more.

Cork extracting tongs

Monopol ah-so

The Monopol brand of Ah-so cork pull

Extracting corks using a traditional screw has its limitations. If the cork is brittle and firmly attached to the inside of the neck, you may only succeed in pulling the centre of the cork through in a dusty mess. For these instances there are delicate tongs that are designed to slide around the outside of the cork and pull it out intact. The most common version of these are the Ah-so cork puller, which takes a little bit of practice but is very effective.

Hot tongs

port tongs

The sommelier on the right is using hot tongs and a cold swab to remove the neck of the bottle

Traditionally used for opening Port bottles, this method avoids trying to dislodge the cork, instead simply removing the neck form the bottle, cork and all. Metal tongs are heated and then clamped to the neck. Then chilled, the change in temperature causes the glass to fracture. The neck can be carefully removed and the wine decanted. It does require a bit of special equipment, but it’s a sure fire way of getting the cork out of the way of pouring the wine.

Read more about cork vs screw cap for wine bottles or check out our article about glassware and decanting.

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Kieran Clarkin

Kieran Clarkin

Digital Marketing and Tour Host at Wine Compass
Kieran is a WSET Diploma student, Chin Chin sommelier and host for Wine Compass. He loves chatting about wine, hosting tastings and getting people interested in wine generally. He's big into Victorian wine, the Loire Valley and the very under-rated wines of Greece.
Kieran Clarkin

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