As Aussies continue to nurture a growing fiend for international wines, we have to embrace one harsh reality. Europe’s wine regions enjoy their traditions, and there’s one age-old principle in particular that won’t be wavering any time soon – the corked wine bottle.
While us nouveau drinkers in more contemporary, farther-flung spots around the world are quick and ready to spin a cap off a bottle and pour generously, if we want to indulge in fruits of France, Spain and Italy, we must learn to hurdle what can easily trip up even the most suave and cultured of them all – how to open a bottle of wine that has a cork (and how to open it with finesse).
At a dinner with Federico Lleonart, the global ambassador for Campo Viejo, Spain’s winery of the year and the latest player to enter the import market here in Australia, we were delivered a crash course on the deceptively simple process.
While I and the majority of guests had experience with the skill, it got me thinking nonetheless. If ever I’m stuck with a bottle of beer but sans bottle opener, one can usually improvise with the butt end of a lighter, spoon, table edge or pretty much any leveraging object. But, if one comes face to face with a cork and an ensemble of judgemental eyes watching on, the cool, calm and collected modern man needs to know what his options are. More specifically, how to pull them off without looking like an idiot.
Aside from opening your bottle of wine with an actual corkscrew, the methods in this article are by no means foolproof if done incorrectly or without proper care. In fact, we’ll be honest, you should probably expect them to fail. So don’t go trying this on your granddad’s bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild.
With a corkscrew (duh)
As Federico astutely reminded us – using a corkscrew to open a bottle of wine is a simple yet necessary skill to have. Use the tool’s small blade to remove the foil cap and ensure the metal screw is perfectly centred at the top of the cork before applying a spiralling downward pressure. Once inserted, place the first step of the tool onto the lip of the bottle and lift the handle until the cork is halfway out. Repeat using the second step in the corkscrew, pulling until the cork is almost out before swapping to your other hand to pull it out completely.
With an actual screw (and a screwdriver & hammer)
You simply take a screw, preferably a long one, and screw it into the cork with a screwdriver until there is about a centimetre or two of the screw left showing. As you would normally remove a screw from wood, take the backside of the hammer and lock it under the screw head to pull it out, therefore taking the cork with it. You can also copy this method with a set of keys, but just twist it out rather than leverage it with a hammer.
Use a bike pump
If you can get your hands on a bike pump fellas, you really should be able to rustle up a corkscrew – ask yourself which one is more essential in the long term. If, somehow, by some miracle, you find yourself with just the former, insert the needle and plunge it through the cork, making sure it pops out the other side as to fill the bottle with air. Simply pump air into the wine and keep a close eye on the cork as it slowly moves out of the bottle due to the pressure.
Or just push the cork into the bottle
Take the handle of a wooden spoon or a similar object and essentially just push the cork down into the wine bottle. Once it’s in, however, it’s not coming out, so expect to polish off the whole bottle in one sitting, and be prepared to decant the wine should it be a considerably old cork that crumbles when fondled.
If you must, try hitting it against the wall
If you somehow find yourself with absolutely no tools but a bottle of wine, this is probably your only and last resort. Wrap the bottom of the wine bottle in a thick towel, preferably two for safe measure, and then bang it against a flat surface repeatedly. We’d advise your mate who thinks he’s Arnold Swazzernegger not to go full ape on it, and rather use 30-40% of your strength while hitting it against the wall repeatedly to slowly move the cork out.
Campo Viejo launches nationally this month, with their famed Tempranillo retailing for $22 a bottle at your local booze HQ. In keeping with their Spanish roots, you can expect to be trying at least one of the above methods on your new tipple.