For many wine lovers, the delicate process of opening a special bottle of aged wine can be an exciting ritual to be enjoyed and even showcased in front of friends and family. For others however, it can be somewhat unnerving, with the rewards of patience seemingly at risk from the dreaded broken cork.
With several of Gibson’s premium and museum releases bottled with cork, we’ve provided some tips about how to open them successfully. Follow these steps to minimise the risk of breaking the cork whilst opening your special bottle of Gibson.
The first step in preserving the condition of a cork-sealed wine is to ensure it has been stored correctly. Stable temperatures (12-15 Degrees Celsius is ideal), humidity (50-60% relative) and avoidance of light exposure are key elements of wine storage. By adhering to these storage principles and laying your wine on its side, you minimise the risk of the cork becoming brittle or deteriorating. This will make it easier to open the bottle without damaging the cork.
Be gentle with an older vintage:
It is common for corks to gradually degrade over time. For older wines, Gibson particularly recommends the use of an Ah-So cork puller (read on for more detail) to minimise breakage.
Assess the cork’s integrity:
Inspecting the condition of the cork is crucial before attempting to open a wine bottle. After removing any foil, wax or other neck wraps/coverings, inspect the cork for any signs of mould or excessive dryness. A slightly moist, pliable cork suggests better preservation.
Traditional Corkscrew Technique:
Using a traditional corkscrew is often the most reliable method for opening a wine bottle without damaging the cork. Gibson recommends a dual lever corkscrew, also known as a waiters friend or wine key. The two-step lever action provides additional leverage without over bending the cork in the process.
1) Cut the capsule: Carefully remove any capsule or foils from around the bottle neck, exposing the cork. A neat way to do so is to use the knife of the corkscrew, cutting under the lip of the bottle neck. This will leave a portion of the capsule on the bottle.
2) Extract the cork: Once the screw is fully embedded in the cork, use the leverage of the corkscrew to slowly pull it out, keeping the motion smooth and controlled. Be attentive to any resistance or signs of instability from the cork, adjusting your approach accordingly.
Ah-So Cork Puller Technique:
Particularly for older bottles of wine, where cork integrity may be of a higher concern, an Ah-So cork puller can be a useful alternative to a traditional corkscrew. This tool has two thin, flat metal prongs that slide between the cork and the bottle’s neck.
1) Cut the capsule
2) Extract the cork: Place the two prongs between the edge of the cork and the neck glass. Using the handle, push down gently, wiggling where necessary until it is fully inserted. Twist the cork and gently work it up to extract the cork. This method minimizes the risk of breaking or crumbling the cork during removal.
Fully pushed in, broken or cork fragments
A cork retriever is a good investment should you find yourself with a cork accidentally pushed into the bottle in full, or broken into larger fragments. However, if you don’t have a cork retriever, cork pieces can be simply removed by decanting the wine into another vessel and using a fine strainer, cheesecloth or coffee filter.