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January/February 2018

Wine Openers (Twist Corkscrews)

Wine can be intimidating. Your corkscrew shouldn’t make it more so.

How We Tested

For opening bottles of wine, we like to use a waiter’s corkscrew—it’s fast, neat, and requires little physical strength, at least when used correctly. The trouble is, using it correctly takes practice: You must learn how to insert the worm (the metal spiral that pulls the cork out), how to keep it straight and centered within the cork while turning, and where to position any levers to extract the cork.

Twist corkscrews are far less intimidating, in part because they promise to take some of the guesswork out of these steps. And less intimidating is good, since a recent study by consumer research group Mintel revealed that more than half of all legal wine drinkers in the United States describe themselves as “beginners,” regardless of age.

There are two kinds of twist corkscrews: continuous-turn models (also known as corkpulls or screwpulls) and winged corkscrews. Both types have a base that hugs or sits on the neck of the wine bottle and a handle that helps the user center the worm and twist it straight down into the cork. With a continuous‑turn model, you then use the same handle to keep twisting until the worm comes back out with the cork attached. With a winged corkscrew, you depress the two wings on either side of the handle to lift out the inserted worm and cork together.

We wanted to know if either type of corkscrew was worth buying, so we tested nine models—four continuous-turn models and five winged models—priced from $8.90 to $24.95, pitting them against our favorite waiter’s corkscrew, Pulltap’s Classic Evolution Corkscrew by Pulltex ($39.95). We used each model to open 20 bottles: 10 with natural corks and 10 with synthetic corks, which are made from a denser, less flexible plastic that makes them more challenging to remove.

First, the good news: Novice testers did in fact find both types of twist corkscrews to be significantly more intuitive and user-friendly than the waiter’s corkscrew. And there was only one malfunction; 199 of the initial 200 bottles were successfully opened without the cork breaking. Still, a few differences made continuous-turn models even easier to use than winged models.

Why We Preferred Continuous-Turn Corkscrews

For one thing, winged corkscrews were somewhat less intuitive and a bit fussier to operate. First-time users were unsure about where to put their hands (around the wings? around the base?) and how to position the wings (up or down position to start?). The corkscrews themselves were big (most were more than 7.25 inches long), and some were surprisingly heavy (1 pound or more), making them unwieldy when balanced on the slender necks of wine bottles. And guesswork was still required to determine how far in to twist the worm.

By contrast, testers found the continuous-turn models to be practically foolproof. It was obvious how to position the simple frames over the bottles’ necks, and their slimmer profiles and lighter weight (all but one were under 2.5 ounces) made them more comfortable to hold and use. Moreover, a single motion—twisting the handle clockwise—not only pushes the worm into the cork but also lifts the cork as soon as the worm is fully submerged in it—no guesswork required.

Continuous-turn models usually performed better, too. Although the winged corkscrews’ levers required less effort to operate and made the process a hair faster (an average of 13.2 seconds compared with the continuous-turn models’ 14.7 seconds per bottle), these models tended to be rougher on the corks. If a new or well-preserved cork gets a little torn or gouged when the worm enters it, it shouldn’t be a problem—in most cases, you should still be able to get the cork out intact. But corkscrews that extensively rip newer corks can spell trouble for older, more crumbly corks. So after testing each opener on natural and synthetic corks, we used the top- and bottom-performing models to open bottles of Bordeaux that had long, brittle corks. The top corkscrews handled these bottles just fine, but the poorer performers mangled these corks, sending detritus into the wine and in two cases even breaking off the cork inside the bottle.

Differences in Worm Design

Regardless of the type of corkscrew, the design of the worm was critical. First, the worm needed to be at least 1.9 inches long to accommodate corks of different lengths (the corks in our testing were between 1.5 and 1.9 inches long, though they can be as long as 2.3 inches in some bottles.) Shorter worms—found on several of the winged corkscrews—didn’t always burrow deep enough into longer corks, forcing us to wiggle and coax the ends of these corks out of their bottles and making it more likely that they would break. Almost all the continuous-turn models had worms that were at least 4.75 inches long, ensuring that they could handle corks of any length.

Worm shape was also important. We preferred worms with smooth wire spirals, as they drove through the corks gently. One winged corkscrew had a worm shaped like a rough drill bit, and it performed similarly to one, gnawing and splitting the natural corks and boring large holes through the smoother synthetic versions. As we’d seen in our waiter’s corkscrew testing, worms with a nonstick coating were also preferable to those with plain, uncoated steel; the coating helps reduce friction between the worm and the cork, making for a smoother entry into the cork, easier twisting, and less damage to the cork.

So, Should You Buy a Twist Corkscrew?

We still think our winning waiter’s corkscrew, Pulltap’s Classic Evolution Corkscrew by Pulltex, is the best tool for opening wine bottles—and particularly for opening bottles with older or more crumbly corks. Although it does have a learning curve, it removes corks more quickly (on average, in about 9 seconds) and affords more control, as you can alter the entry angle and location to remove corks that get stuck or broken in the bottle. And it’s more compact than the smallest continuous-turn model, taking up less room in your gadget drawer.

That said, a twist corkscrew is an excellent choice for wine drinkers of all experience levels and particularly for novices. Our favorite, the continuous-turn Le Creuset Table Model Corkpull ($19.95), is dead simple to use. Plus, it removes corks in an average of 12 seconds. Its 4.75-inch spiral worm can handle corks of any length, and its nonstick coating helped ensure the smoothest, cleanest cork entry and exit of any of the twist corkscrews. Finally, it’s relatively slim and lightweight, making it easy to handle and store.

Methodology

We tested nine twist corkscrews—four continuous turn and five winged models—priced from $8.90 to $24.95. Pitting them against our favorite waiter’s corkscrew, Pulltap’s Classic Evolution Corkscrew by Pulltex ($39.95), we used each corkscrew to open 20 bottles (10 with natural corks and 10 with synthetic corks), timing each cork’s removal. We had users of different hand sizes, dominant hands, and levels of bottle-opening experience try each model and used the top and bottom performers to open bottles known to have longer, more crumbly corks. We evaluated the models on their ease of use and performance. All models were purchased online, and they appear in order of preference.

Ease of Use: We evaluated the models on how intuitive and easy they were to use and how comfortable they were to hold and handle.

Performance: We evaluated the models on how quickly and neatly they removed the corks.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

$33.31*

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.