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Opening Wine
Opening a bottle of wine can be tricky, but once it is achieved, the rewards are self-evident. Many people enjoy the ritual of pulling the cork; in fact, even though a screw cap keeps wine just as well as a cork, there is some resistance by consumers to buying a quality wine without a cork. Even synthetic corks, which many wine producers have begun using for economic and quality reasons, have yet to be fully accepted.

Here you'll find information about the many different tools and methods for extracting corks, along with useful tips for removing damaged corks and opening Champagne.

How to Open a Bottle of Wine
The first step in getting to the wine is to remove the foil hood, or capsule, that covers the top of the bottle. Originally made of lead, foils are now usually made of plastic, tin or even paper. In the days of underground cellars, the foil protected the cork from being nibbled by mice or rats, and also served as a secondary stopper should the cork fail. These days, foils are largely decorative, although they can be useful for identifying bottles of wine kept in a wine rack. Some producers have stopped using foils altogether, instead presenting the bottle with a patch of wax or plastic covering the top of the cork.

Cutting the Foil
The foil may be cut with the small blade found on many corkscrews, or you may use a special cutting device that rotates, cutting the foil just below the lip of the bottle. This presents a neat, uncluttered look and prevents the wine from dribbling off the foil as it is poured.

Types of Corkscrews
There is a wide, perhaps even confusing, selection of corkscrews available. The most basic style of corkscrew is simply a wire spiral, or worm, attached to a handle. The worm is twisted, or screwed, into the cork, which is removed by pulling on the handle. The choice really depends on what style is easiest for you to use. The most important element of the corkscrew is the worm. It should be at least 2 inches long, so that it will penetrate deep enough into the cork to remove it without breaking or damaging it. Look for a round worm with a sharp point and an open spiral that will firmly grip the cork.

Many professionals prefer a simple corkscrew called the waiter's friend, which uses leverage to extract the cork. The ah-so, or butler's friend, has also become quite popular. The cork can be extracted without damage by inserting two thin blades between the cork and the bottle and twisting the cork out. However, this method does require dexterity.

Removing the Cork
The exact method of removing the cork from the bottle depends to a large extent on the corkscrew. Whatever style of corkscrew you use, the object is to pull the cork slowly so that the entire cork is removed from the bottle without leaving behind bits of it that look unsightly in the glass, although they do not actually affect the taste of the wine.

In the event a cork does break off in the bottle, it is possible to insert the corkscrew at an angle to remove the remainder of the cork, although this can be a tricky operation. Otherwise, you could use an ah-so, or failing that, push the cork carefully into the wine bottle. If you do not want pieces of cork floating in the wine, then you could decant it.

Opening Sparkling Wine
Never use a corkscrew to open Champagne or sparkling wine. Hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle to maximize the surface area of the wine, and keep a thumb over the cork. First remove the foil and wire cage, then slowly twist the bottle off the cork, either by hand or using a device called Champagne pliers.

Bear in mind that Champagne corks are under enormous pressure. Don't be tempted to see how far you can propel the cork by suddenly popping it. Always point a bottle of Champagne away from you, and never point it in the direction of another person, even if you are only removing the foil. A faulty cork may explode out of the bottle when the foil is removed. Champagne corks have been known to cause serious injury and, in the United States, many producers have started putting a voluntary warning on the bottles.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Guides, The Wine Guide, by Larry Walker and Wink Lorch (Time-Life Books, 1999).