Thursday 27 June 2013

Corkscrew (Lambrusco)

So my old Screwpull corkscrew has finally given up the ghost. Since there are effectively only two working parts in a Screwpull this is as much as to say that the Teflon® has worn off the screw so that the knife-through-butter sensation I used to get when taking out a cork has degenerated into a nail-through-tarmac feeling, quite apart from the fact that the corks seem to come out broken more often than they used to.

What to get as a replacement? Same again, no? Well, kind of, except that in the intervening years I have found something which I think is better than a Screwpull - an updated Waiter's Friend, with a nicely-engineered double-action neck brace (you know, that little metal arm which hooks over the neck of the bottle to provide leverage) and (the killer feature) a bit of Teflon® on the screw to make it supersimple to insinuate it into the cork. Advantages over the Screwpull being that you don't have drive the screw all the way through the cork to get it out (risking breakage, or a leaky cork when you re-cork the bottle) and you can get the thing out much quicker, because less time is spent on the Archimedes Screw as it elevates the cork into the air. With a bit of practice, an intact cork can be out in five seconds, that double-jointed lever doing all the work for you.

How do I know this? Because we have one. Trouble is, it lives on the boat where (believe you me) it has been a life-saver, and I can't bring myself to nick it and put an inferior substitute in its place. Do I actually have an inferior substitute, just supposing I found it in me to sink that bit lower on the moral scale? Yes, a 21st-Century Waiter's Friend bought from John Lewis, where it looked great, no-slip rubber grip, nice brushed metal finish: only problem being that it has a crap screw and a lever arm which is as much use as a toothpick.

So it's off to the Internet, and where I assumed there would be only two choices of corkscrew available in this world (Screwpull or Waiter's Friend), given that for a corkscrew to be worth advertising at all it must be both simple to use and completely reliable, given the high-stress situations in which it finds itself.

It turns out however, that human ingenuity has really let itself run riot in the matter of corkscrews, giving us more ways to open a bottle than there are stains on a plumber's vest.

- You can get them with professional bar staff single-action levers

- You can get them motorised

- You can get them motorised with one-hand operation

- You can get them with that old-fashioned both-arms-in-the-air double lever action (one of the very worst ways of getting a cork out, 95% chance of a complete breakdown)

- You can get them as an attachment for an electric drill

- You can get them brass-plated and wall-mounted

- You can get a novelty Bill Clinton corkscrew (the screw emerging from Bill's crotch, and I am not making this up)

- You can, unbelievably, still get that cork extractor that isn't a corkscrew at all, but two slim fingers of metal that slide down between the cork and the neck of the bottle, possibly a worse idea even than the arms-in-the-air corkscrew

- You can get the wooden handled moron's corkscrew - that Flintstone's corkscrew that I think my Mum still has, a shaped wooden grip and a metal screw that smashes any cork it meets into seventy tiny fragments

- You can get a corkscrew that looks a bit like a tulip

- You can get a corkscrew that looks like a moustache

- You can get a corkscrew that looks like a parrot

And so on, seemingly without end. In fact there were only two stupid ones that I couldn't find. One was that appalling all-wood dual-action thing we had to put up with in the Seventies - as PK reminded me - where one tap-shaped handle drove the screw into the cork, and a second one, set on a contra-rotating thread, drew the cork out. It looked it as it was made out of the leftovers of a ski Chalet and no-one ever knew how to work it. The other was the sort that pumped air into the bottle through a hypodermic needle, the air pressure slowly forcing the cork out from below and presumably adding a quick spritz to your first glassful of Gevrey-Chambertin. No sign of it either.

On the other hand, where were the groovy two-step Waiter's Friends + Teflon®? Where, even, was the basic Screwpull? Eventually I stumbled upon a sane part of the Internet, with both sorts and, just to seal the deal, the prices of Screwpulls and Screwpull variations seemed to have gone through the roof, especially when all you're buying is two bits of plastic and a cheap metal thread, so that was my choice made for me: Waiter's Friend, with all the trimmings.

But wait: do I even need a new corkscrew, given that nearly all my wine comes out of a bottle with a screw top? Well, at an Italian wine tasting the other day, there were many delicious wines in bottles with corks, and I did think that I might need to open bottles like these, just supposing my life takes a quite unexpected turn at some point in the near future. (Parenthetically I also thought, Do all Italian reds have the same nose but different everything else? [With the exception of Lambrusco, which I tried for the sake of nostalgia {in the Eighties it used to come with a brushed nylon Fun Bug free toy as an etxra inducement} only to find that it smelled of laundry and dung and tasted like fag ash]). So, yes, it is necessary and I will get a new Waiter's Friend, and all I will need then is the remaining £10.99 to get a bottle of wine which justifies a cork.



  1. Oh, the giddy use of brackets!

    1. Didn't you know that this is (International) Parenthesis Week?

  2. I know someone that owns one of these:

    It is the best corkscrew I have ever used. Gentle on the cork and a continuous turn to screw into the cork and extract it. The important bit is to set the action for the correct length of cork, unless you don't mind always going right through the end.

  3. Or you can buy a Waiter's Friend from Majestic for £3.50. I can never understand why anyone would fork out silly money for a corkscrew when a Waiter's Friend is still the most efficient (and cheapest) way to get into your wine. At least if it falls apart it costs no more than a pint of beer to replace it.

    Mind you, Kit in the above post has also posited a good alternative. My grandfather has a similar corkscrew that was his father's (so, pretty sturdy then!) Worth hunting for one in an antique market or shop.

    1. Well now to me, that 'King' Corkscrew (on offer at £465, apparently) although extremely handsome, is also far too technically challenging. In the hierarchy of human needs, quick and easy access to the grog comes first, hence a screw cap on the bottle or a really, really, idiot-proof corkscrew.

    2. My grandfather's corkscrew is a doddle to use, all you have to do is set the cage on the mouth of the bottle and just keep turning the screw. No pulling, no fuss. I admit that I'm in the lucky position that I'll get to inherit his corkscrew thereby avoiding shelling out a Monkey on one. In the meantime I'm happy with the Waiter's Friend that serves me well.

      Very true about the screwcap! I hate corks for the simple fact that they often make the wine go bad, or they fall apart and one has to end up sieving the damned stuff through one's teeth. Blasted nuisance that. I also dislike the nerves I have about expensive wines that I have kept faithfully in good condition only to be let down by the cork. It's beyond infuriating.

      I'm also hoping that screwcaps do not detract a wine from ageing, it would be a crying shame if they prove to be no good for this. I'm a firm believer that decent Bordeaux needs ten years of ageing before they show their best, and that Barolo needs a lot of patience. If they did prove to be a Good Thing, then I shall rejoice as my nerves will be calm with the knowledge that I can go out with an absurdly expensive bottle without fear that the cork is going to spoil my party.

    3. I couldn't agree more, my only proviso being that I shall be in my grave long before I manage to keep anything for ten years. Ten minutes is nearer the average...

  4. ...all about Lambrusco, the real (min. 11% alc.) and "not-so-real" ("smelled of laundry and dung and tasted like fag ash") >

  5. My heart goes out to you. Wine merchants here in Sicily are very liberal with the "updated" waiter's friend, which is the only one worth its salt, so I have loads of them milling around in my utensils drawer (teflon-coated screw 'n' all). I'll happily send you one! I love the sound of the drill attachment, though, which I'm sure would be great for a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-themed dinner party

  6. Been there before. I have just recently purchased a two-stage legnoart corkscrew and loving it. little more pricey but I enjoy way it feels in my hand very solid.


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