Although a simple corkscrew has the best credentials for opening a bottle of wine, several alternatives can step in should the need arise. None of the techniques are suitable for debuting at a dinner party, but with practice, some might undoubtedly impress. For all methods, the foil or plastic capsule around the bottle neck should be removed.
While sommeliers can seemingly pull the cork out a bottle with a waiter’s friend corkscrew in one swift movement, cheap cork screws can sometimes turn cork extraction into a frustrating ordeal. Numerous objects can be used to work a cork out of a bottle just as efficiently as a bad corkscrew.
Drive a large, course-threaded screw into the cork and extract it (and the cork) with pliers. Tap three finish nails into the cork at an angle, pinch them together with pliers, then carefully draw out the cork. Even a key can be driven into the cork until it holds firm then wrestled free using pliers. In all cases, the trick is to hold the cork and extractor steady while twisting the bottle, allowing the weight of the bottle to loosen the cork. Even a pair of scissors will work. Drive the thinner blade down and through the cork, hold the handle, and twist the bottle until the cork starts to loosen.
Science to the Rescue
Well-applied physics, rather than crude brute force, can force the cork out of the neck without even touching the cork. Gently tapping the bottle against a hard surface will transfer the impact force through the wine to the cork. Wrap the base of a wine bottle in table linen or a towel, hold the bottle horizontally, and tap the base gently against a wall. The technique works better with natural rather than plastic corks, which tend to be set fast. After a few taps, the cork should begin to protrude enough to be pulled out.
A hard-heeled flat shoe (no sneakers or heels) can also be used to protect the bottle while tapping it against a wall. Nestle the bottle base flat in the shoe insole, supported by the heel of the shoe, and tap the sole on the wall. Again, the more square the bottom of the bottle contacts the wall, the more the force of impact is transferred through the wine to the cork. To avoid injury, wrap the bottle completely in a cloth, wear heavy gloves and never directly contact the glass bottle to a hard surface.
Touches of Style
Some techniques should only be performed by those well-versed in emergency cork extraction. Focusing the heat of a chef’s blowtorch can pop a cork. Wearing goggles for safety, and holding the bottle upright at arm’s length, train the flame on the air-filled section of the bottle neck. After 20 or 30 seconds, the air inside will expand sufficiently to push out the cork.
For sparkling wines, lopping the neck of the bottle off with a saber is a display of finesse. In the absence of 19th-century weaponry, so-called sabrage can be practiced at home with a heavy-bladed chef’s knife. Holding the neck of the bottle pointed away from you, run the flat edge of the knife from the shoulder towards the bottle neck, striking the lip on the neck where the cork is wired to. With a sharp tap on a cold bottle, the cork and neck will come off cleanly. The pressure inside the bottle will blast away the broken bottle neck and glass fragments. Do not try this with any non-carbonated wine.
A solid, thin implement pushed down on the cork with sufficient force will ultimately drive the cork into the bottle, allowing wine to be poured out. As resorts go, this is the last. Not only does the pen, toothbrush or screwdriver in question risk shearing off to one side, but the wine will accumulate cork debris.
In some cases, though, corkscrew alternatives have a practical purpose. The corks in vintage port wines, for example, can degrade over time and become too fragile for a corkscrew. A feather comes to the rescue. First heat a pair of port tongs to red hot over a flame and carefully clamp them tight around the bottle’s neck. After 20 seconds the glass will be hot. Remove the tongs, dip a feather in ice water, and stroke it around the neck, cracking the glass cleanly around the neck. The port will have to be carefully decanted through muslin or a decanter funnel with a screen.