Wine gadgets come in several forms: functional, humorous, ostentatious, decorative and impractical. The following list in an ongoing series that will provide choices that are sure to please the wine lover. Most online stores can still send these in time for Christmas, but also check out local wine shops where one can do a hands-on check of the gadgets practicality or amusement value. It doesn’t hurt that many of these are now on sale from department stores house-wares departments, Bath & Beyond and other specialty shops as well as wine shops.
Wine corkscrews and Wine Openers
This is the most obvious choice and wine openers are available in several designs. In fact one can find just about any imaginable variation on the basic designs. Most wine openers offer some mechanical assistance to the pulling of the cork. Avoid at all cost the “T” handle type wherein the only mechanical advantage comes from how firmly one can keep the bottle locked between one’s legs.
Sommelier corkscrew: This design uses a hinged plate that affixes to the lip of the bottle mouth just past the cork. The double-hinged or two-step corkscrew; makes this extraction easier. It provides a significant mechanical advantage over older-style single-hinge devices. Basic two-step designs are usually under ten dollars, but fancier or sturdier units with wood handles are over thirty bills.
The one caveat is that placement of the screw over the cork is critical. Placing it too far over, or at an angle can damage, or worse, chew up the cork. That’s why sommeliers use them. It makes a more impressive show when they extract the cork, unblemished, and present it to the diner. Corkscrews with two hinged arms and a circular lip to place over the bottle are better for the novice, but always check the quality of the screw itself. Cheaper models can still chew up harder-to-extract corks.
There are endless variations, including ones that mount on the bottle while a handle turns pulling the cork and then extracting it when the handle is reversed. In general plastic corkscrews wear out much faster than ones made at least partially in metal.
Electric corkscrews: There are several electric corkscrews on the market. These will uncork and then release the cork, but must be kept close to fully-charged to handle more resistant corks, particularly first generation synthetic corks which seem to form a tight bond with the bottle neck. The whining of the motor during this process can also be off-putting.
Some provide a large viewing port on the cylinder and even illuminate for proper positioning. This is very useful when a dried-out or defective cork is being removed. A device that provides no viewing port could easily eviscerate a cork before the user discovers the problem.
Mechanical marvels corkscrews: are very impressive, but can challenge the less mechanically inclined. The Rabbit by Metrokane is very popular and removes corks quick as a rabbit, but requires a bit of practice before amazing one’s friends with the host’s mechanical dexterity. The Rabbit is also available with a foil cutter and aerator. Not only can one open the wine faster, but red wines get a half-hour jump on opening up when the aerator is employed.
Mechanical Press: These are the Cadillac of wine openers, and use a large lever for cork extraction. The vertical design mounts on its own stand or to a table top and has a clamp for holding the bottle in place while pressing the handle down and up to extract the cork. Always check how far the clamp opens for attachment to a bar or countertop. The 45 degree design, for want of a better word; also mounts on a countertop, but requires the user to hold the bottle firmly while extracting the cork. Only select one that also removes the cork after extraction, or all that efficiency is lost.
For a video of the Wine Enthusiast Spanish Master corkscrew; click here.
Foil cutters: Sommelier corkscrews usually have a small blade that swings out to cut the foil and most variations come with them. Some are too dull to do an adequate job and can cause injuries if care is not taken. Using a butcher knife is also not recommended. A separate foil cutter is better. These encircle the bottle neck and only require one or two turns to neatly remove the foil without jagged edges that can also leave cuts. All electric corkscrews should have them. Some foil cutters are included in higher-end corkscrews and devices like the Rabbit.
There are many ways to open a wine bottle. Make sure the gift you provide can do it properly and if possible, with a bit of élan.