If you’ve ever experienced the challenge of pulling a cork on an old bottle of wine, you’ll know it can be potluck as to how easily the cork comes out. Sometimes the cork slips out all too easily, suggesting it has dried out and potentially allowed air in to oxidise your precious wine. More often, though, I find corks which feel like they are super-glued to the neck of the bottle. That’s fine if the cork retains its integrity but chances are, if this is a really old bottle, it’ll be starting to get brittle and crumbly.
Here’s my tried and tested technique for teasing the squidgiest, crumbliest cork out, relatively in-tact:
- Cut the foil from the top of the bottle, either with a foil-cutter, if you have one, or a sharp knife.
- Invariably, there will be a certain amount of gunk (technical term…) sitting on top of the cork and around the rim of the bottle’s neck. Scrape off as much as you can and then wipe with a damp cloth. We don’t want any of that falling into the wine!
- Gently push the cork with your thumb, to see if it gives. If the cork starts to move into the bottle, we know there’s a loose fit and it would be easy to accidentally push the cork into the bottle, if we put too much pressure on the corkscrew.
- Now comes the unorthodox bit… Take a metal kebab skewer, or similar, and ease it between the cork and the edge of the bottle neck. Slowly push it down the side of the cork, into the bottle, until you can see it come out below the bottom of the cork. Gently withdraw your skewer and you may notice how a small hiss of air as the pressure in the bottle adjusts to that of the atmosphere in the room. By doing this, we have provided a channel for air to pass through as we draw the cork out. Normally, we pull a cork, there’s that great popping sound, as the air rushes into a bottle. Unfortunately, that pressure differential can soon result in an old cork breaking under the strain of being pulled.
- Now pull the cork gently with a corkscrew, in the usual manner and voila, a perfectly intact cork!
Generally, the steps above are enough to give you a smoothly drawn cork. Sometimes, however, the structure of the cork has already deteriorated to the point where a single corkscrew just isn’t enough. A great device, if you can get your hands on one is a two pronged cork puller, otherwise, a neat trick is to leave the first corkscrew in the centre of the cork and introduce a second one diagonally, from the top of the cork to the bottom. This gives you double the surface area contact to pull with and can reduce the risk of ripping out the core of the cork, leaving the sides behind.