For most bottles of wine, removing the cork is a fairly routine task.
On most days, my opener of choice is the classic, double-hinged, waiter’s model, primarily because it is compact, reliable and cheap. Most have a small knife built in so there is no need for a separate capsule cutter and many of them have a Teflon-coated spiral “worm” – the part that sticks into the cork – for ease of use.
While this simple tool will get the job done for the vast majority of bottles, you will need to be much more thoughtful about your choice of cork extractor when removing a cork that is 25 years old or more. Even a cork in a bottle kept in excellent storage will start to get brittle after decades of service, and the cork may not hold up to the bending and wrenching to which it can be exposed when pulled. Unless you are extremely careful, you could easily break the cork off in the neck of the bottle.
When I need to pull the cork out of an old bottle I will typically reach for one of two similar types of cork pullers. The usual go-to is a simple two-prong opener often referred to as an “Ah-so”. An Ah-so has two steel blades that slip down along the sides of a cork rather puncturing the cork through the center. When used properly, a two-prong cork puller will hold a fragile cork together during extraction, preventing cork bending and thereby reducing the probability of the cork breakage. The trick to a two-prong is to be gentle and patient or you run the risk of pushing the cork into the bottle.
For really old bottles – say 40 years or older – I recommend a device I recently discovered called The Durand, which is specifically designed for these potentially super-fragile corks. The Durand is not so much a single tool as it is a two-stage process consisting of a Teflon worm corkscrew and a two-prong cork puller.
The first step is to carefully twist the Teflon coated worm through the center of the cork. Once the worm is all of the way inside the cork, you insert the two-prong part of the puller along the sides of the cork. The two-prong piece and the worm link together after insertion; the worm keeps the cork from being pushed into the bottle while the two-prong holds the cork together and prevents breakage. These two pieces allow for an easy removal of the cork. Check out a video demonstration!
Everyone who needs to pull very old corks on a regular basis has their own favorite tool for the job but I am seeing more and more Durands in cellars of long-time collectors and in restaurants with a large, mature wine lists. So if you have a double-hinged, waiter’s model, corkscrew, a two-prong cork puller and The Durand on hand you will be prepared for any type of cork that you are likely to encounter.