Have the Perfect Wine Opener at the Ready: Choosing Between a Coravin and a Classic Corkscrew

perfect wine opener

A simple corkscrew is a solid choice if you’re an experienced bottle-opener, but a double-hinged version is easier for most people to use. Image source: Flickr CC user Nigel Wade

Last summer, I was invited to a massive wine and dinner party that was attended by at least 50 guests. Since every couple brought along a bottle of wine, the two hosts scrambled to open dozens of bottles as the night wore on. About two hours into the party, one of the hosts needed to open three bottles at once, but he only had a hand-held waiter’s corkscrew to get the job done. He got the first bottle open without a hitch, but the second bottle wasn’t so lucky; as he pried the cork out, his hand slipped, cutting the cork in half before it was out of the bottle. The host spent the next 10 minutes plucking shards of cork out of the decanter by hand, trying desperately to salvage the wine.

These two hosts would have been far better off using a simple electric wine opener for a party of that size. Although most wine experts say that double-hinged, handheld corkscrews are the best option for daily use, you have to consider your needs before you rely on a single wine opener. Sommelier Michael McCaulley says he thinks of wine openers as construction tools; nail guns are nice to have for serious home improvement projects, but they’re overkill if you’re driving a single nail into a wall. Consider your personal collection (and party) style when you choose the best wine opener for you.

The Best Wine Opener for Most Collections

Restaurant wine director Jordan Salcito tells The Sweet Home that he prefers a waiter’s corkscrew to any other wine opener on the market. He explains, “I really believe that a wine key is something quite personal. For me, the best style is the classic waiter’s corkscrew…I think that this kind of model gives a person the greatest amount of control when opening a bottle. It’s sort of like the ‘stick shift’ of wine keys. No professional driver wants an automatic.” Waiter’s corkscrews are the best option for collectors who only open one or two bottles of wine at a time a few times per week. There’s no reason to use an elaborate electric wine opener unless you’re opening many bottles. Salcito says a waiter’s corkscrew gives you more control over your most precious bottles. Unlike an electric opener, which automatically opens every cork the same way regardless of size or age, manual corkscrews work on a wider range of wines (including magnums) and allow you to change your pressure based on the fragility of the cork. Older corks need to be handled more delicately than what some electric openers can manage.

Manual corkscrews also win out on the portability front, which is a major concern for wine collectors who travel with their wines. If you want to take a bottle of vintage German Riesling out for a picnic, you don’t want to bring a bulky electric wine opener along. And while some electric openers rely on batteries, others require an outlet. That means if you can’t find electricity, you’re stuck with unopened wine. A waiter’s corkscrew can fit in your pocket and you never have to worry about a power supply.

Before you buy a waiter’s corkscrew, look at the price. Winemaker Lucas J. Meeker jokes, “If you really want to spend a lot of money on a corkscrew: Don’t.” Buying fancy corkscrews as gifts for your wine collector friends is fine, but spending more money on added details like rare wood or Swarovski crystals is a useless exercise. Meeker also says, “If you’re anything like me, you lose corkscrews like they’re going out of style, and you’d rather lose $10 than $150.” Save your money and spend it on more wine instead. When shopping for a corkscrew, consider whether you need the double-hinge that some experts recommend. Meeker says that if you’ve opened dozens of bottles of wine in your lifetime, you probably don’t need the double-hinge feature. However, a double-hinge coaxes the cork out in two steps, rather than muscling through it in one go. You should test out both a simple corkscrew and a double-hinge to see which you prefer. A double-hinge makes you less likely to break the cork in half, so it never hurts to go with the safest option.

The Best Wine Opener for Rare Wine Collections

Can you savor a rare wine for days, weeks, or even a month after you have your first glass of it, or is this an impossible dream? It’s not impossible if you have a Coravin wine opener. The Coravin works by piercing the top of the cork with a narrow, hollow needle, and replacing any empty space in the bottle with harmless argon gas. To use it, you place your bottle inside of the Coravin’s holder, pierce the needle into the cork, tip the Coravin on its side and push a button at the top that releases the wine from the needle’s opening and into your glass.  Argon gas doesn’t impact the taste or flavor of the wine like oxygen does, which can cause oxidation. After you pull the needle out of the bottle, the pressure from the argon gas around the neck causes the cork to expand and seal once more, without exposure to oxygen. You can then keep your bottle in your cellar for as long as a month, sometimes more. This is the best option for collectors who want to test the maturity of a wine or who simply want to get the most out of a one-of-a-kind bottle like Sine Qua Non.  

If the Coravin extends the life of wine bottles, shouldn’t most collectors use this as their standard wine opener? Not necessarily. To start, the Coravin may be overkill for many collectors. Unless you frequently drink extremely rare bottles of wine that you can’t finish in one sitting, a Coravin will likely spend most of its time taking up counter space. The price is also steep compared to other wine openers on the market; newer Coravin models cost as much as $350. There’s also significant risk involved with a Coravin. For instance, the argon gas pressure can cause some bottles, in rare cases, to break. The Coravin’s manufacturers tell users to handle bottles with a soft covering like a towel as they remove the bottles from the holder in case the bottles break. Some bottles might last a month after being sampled with a Coravin, but spoilage is possible if anything goes wrong in the cork-puncturing process. You should only use this opener on bottles that you can afford to lose. Drink your irreplaceable bottles in one sitting.

The Best Wine Opener for Tasting Parties

The electric wine opener is the ideal option for collectors who are studying up for a sommelier exam or who host wine tasting parties at least once a month. Generally, if you open three or more bottles of wine in a single day a few times per month, an electric opener can save you time and energy. Serious Eats’ Maggie Hoffman says, “There’s absolutely no effort or muscle involved, which is kind of amazing. As cheesy as it is, I’d buy this as a gift for wine-loving friends and especially for someone with an arm or shoulder injury.” The downside to electric wine openers is that they’re a bulky piece of equipment for how little most wine collectors use them. Store your electric wine opener in an out-of-the-way place to make room for other wine equipment.

To buy a quality electric wine opener, look for a built-in foil cutter. If your electric opener can’t cut foil, you’re stuck improvising with a kitchen knife. Keep your fingers intact and spend extra on an electric opener with a foil cutter. The second quality to look for in your electric opener is whether it can handle synthetic corks. Unlike real cork, synthetic corks are slippery and rubbery to the touch. This sometimes makes it difficult for electric openers to properly pierce and remove them. It’s always a good idea to have a waiter’s corkscrew on-hand for your synthetic corks.

The Best Wine Opener for Aged Wines

As a serious wine collector, you probably have at least one rare bottle that’s been aged for a few decades. Older wines need far more care than younger bottles, which is where the Ah So wine opener comes in handy. Unlike waiter’s corkscrews, electric openers, or even the Coravin, a two-pronged opener like the Ah So doesn’t pierce the cork at all. Jamming a piece of metal or a needle through the top of an aged cork can cause the fragile cork to crumble under the force. A two-pronged system works like a pair of tweezers, going around the cork and not through it. To use it, you first insert the longest prong against the side of the cork without piercing it. From there, you insert the shorter prong between the bottle’s edge and the cork’s edge. Finally, you carefully twist the handle, pushing down gently until the prongs reach the base of the cork. You pull upward to pry the cork out in one piece.

The danger of using a two-pronged wine opener is that it takes weeks of practice to master. Beginners can easily push the cork deeper inside of the bottle. It’s also easy to accidentally pierce the cork, which can cause it to crumble inside of the bottle. Before you use this opener, practice on a few cheap bottles to perfect your technique. The good news is that this is one of the safest ways to remove an old cork from a bottle, meaning once you’ve mastered this wine opener, you’ll never have to worry about breaking your 1950s Lafite corks ever again.

Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s best wine.

Harley is an Executive Wine Specialist for Vinfolio, helping collectors find the best wines for their collection. He’s a lover of everything outdoors and the proper bottles to go along with it. You can find him at any of the newest cocktail bars and restaurants in SF or on an adventure somewhere in between Lake Tahoe and the California coastline.