You’re been saving that one bottle of wine — you know the one — for the perfect occasion. It has sat for years, maybe decades, in your cellar, and when the night comes, you gather around with your friends, whistles whet, eagerly anticipating the popping of the cork. The corkscrew goes in, then comes out. Without the cork. A darkness falls.
A corroding or unfirm cork can mean the bottle was kept in a dry cellar or that the bottle was stored vertically. Often though, a delicate cork on an older bottle is the norm. A poor piece of cork was ripped from a tree in Portugal, jammed in a bottle, and left for 30 years. You’d be falling apart too if it happened to you.
Let us know what kind of wine advice you would like by contacting me on Twitter (@charlesantin), or by contacting the Wine Department at Christie’s (@christieswine). In the meantime, here are some tips for opening that old bottle, and making sure corroding cork bits don’t ruin the experience.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a cork ruined simply because someone thinks they can open the bottle like you’d pop a young Beaujolais. Simply working the cork up slowly (and perfectly straight) can go a long way to keeping the cork intact.
Use the right tools
If you’re using the same corkscrew your grandparents used (the ‘wing’ corkscrew, for example, with two arms) you may be in trouble. Find a corkscrew that is long enough to protrude through the entire cork, and also has a wide gauge so it grabs the cork firmly. In no way does this mean you need a Code 38, but if you’re not drinking bad wine, don’t use a bad corkscrew.
If you’re pulling slowly and straight up with a waiter’s corkscrew and still having problems, put a second corkscrew into the cork. You might get a few quizzical looks, but it works. The second screw will wind around the first and help grip the cork even better. The Ah-So cork screw is an option, but even better is a gadget called the Durand, which is equal parts Ah-So and corkscrew. We’re addicted to ours.
Even the best of us have met a cork we can’t tackle. Inevitably, at some point, a few dry pieces of cork may fall into the wine. Hopefully you were opening your special bottle away from your guests — nothing ruins the expectation of a great bottle like the fine silt of degraded cork all over the table. Strain the wine through a mesh strainer — it doesn’t need to be wine specific — and then either serve in the decanter, or simply use a funnel to pour it back in the bottle. No one’s the wiser.