Smart Buying

5 Things to Ask About Corkscrews

What to look for in a quality corkscrew.

1. What's the secret to a good corkscrew? The "worm," or spiral, that goes into the cork is the key element. It should be a "hollow worm," says Elliott Mackey, of the Wine Appreciation Guide, which means it has an open center. Cheap corkscrews have worms that look more like drill bits and will drill a hole into the cork. That weakens the cork and sometimes causes it to split or crumble. Look for a worm with four to five spirals -- the deeper it goes, the less likely the cork will break. Teflon coating is a plus.

2. Which corkscrew is the easiest to use? A great choice for easy opening is the Screwpull Trilogy Table Model, made by Le Creuset. Rest the sides on top of the bottle, line up the worm so that it's straight and centered over the cork, and squeeze the sides against the bottle to hold it steady. Then turn the handle at the top, and the cork comes out. Squeeze the sides and twist the handle again, and the cork pops off the worm -- no tugging or special technique is needed.

3. Which is the fastest? If you plan to serve a crowd, lever models with three handles make the job go faster. Two handles go on either side of the bottle's neck, and the lever handle on top controls the worm. Swing the lever over and the worm goes in; swing it back and the cork comes out. It's a bit cumbersome for just a bottle or two, but it can save your arm and your time when you're opening by the case. (Popular lever models are the Screwpull, Swiftpull Pro, the Rabbit and Instapull.) But hard, synthetic corks are a lever model's Waterloo, and too many can destroy its worm (and sometimes the corkscrew).

4. What about waiter-style corkscrews used in restaurants? If you're willing to practice your technique with these tools, which have just a single piece that braces on the top of the bottle, they're a good choice. Twisting the worm into harder corks can take a little muscle, and you may have to uncork several bottles to get the hang of it. A perfectly popped cork with one of these will impress your guests -- theater counts, after all.

5. Which will last the longest? With any corkscrew, the worm will wear and the joints loosen, so its life depends on how much it's used. Some high-end models, however, come with warranties that can extend that life. For example, corkscrews by Forge de Laguiole, which cost an average of $150 to $190, have a lifetime warranty. Send yours in, and the corkscrew will be repaired or replaced. Screwpull offers a ten-year warranty on its lever models.

Three worthy corkscrews

Crowd Pleaser:Screwpull ElegancePrice: $150

This lever model, made by Le Creuset, is sophisticated and ideal for opening a lot of bottles. If you don't need the brushed-metal finish, the Screwpull Classic is $100. Find vendors at www.lecreuset.com.

Objet d'Art:Forge de Laguiole Juniper CorkscrewPrice: $150

Forge de Laguiole, in Laguiole, France, has a history of making beautifully crafted knives and corkscrews. This handmade waiter-style corkscrew is juniper and brushed stainless steel. Order at www.mylaguiole.com or call 800-706-0183 for vendors.

Best Value:Screwpull Trilogy Table ModelPrice: $25

Inexpensive and easy to use, Le Creuset's polycarbonate Screwpull Trilogy is also an efficient tool.

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