I couldn’t find my favorite wine opener the other day, and suddenly I was engulfed in an existential crisis. It wasn’t that I couldn’t find any opener; there were several in the drawer. There was the one with the faded lettering from Horton Vineyards in Virginia, much beloved and used over many years, plus two identical ones that advertised wines of Rioja or Colorado, an elegant enameled souvenir purchased on a long-ago visit to France, and a two-pronged “ah-so” from a Missouri winery.
I could have used any of these to open a bottle of wine, but I didn’t want to. I wanted the one I use every day, the one that fits comfortably in my hand and extracts even the most recalcitrant corks with ease. I found it, eventually, behind the bag of potato chips on the counter, still impaled with the cork of the previous night’s chardonnay.
My panic and frustration are probably familiar to wine fiends. We are inveterate collectors, not just of wine but of trinkets, gadgets, openers, stoppers, cans of inert gas to preserve opened wines, crazy gizmos to chill wines quickly or remove reluctant wine labels to archive in our tasting scrapbooks. These are impulse purchases, souvenirs from winery visits, swag from tastings we attended, gifts from well-meaning friends and family. They are the detritus of our vinous existence.
OK, I’ve been writing about wine for 25 years now, so I’ve probably collected more of this junk than most of you, but here’s what I found in one section of my kitchen silverware drawer when I decided to do an inventory: eight waiter’s corkscrews, the kinds with a blade on one end to cut the foil on a bottle and a lever on the other to pry the cork out; some of these blades couldn’t cut air, while others might slice your fingertip off if you’re not careful.
I also found two ah-so openers, eight sparkling wine bottle stoppers of various sizes and effectiveness, and 16 glass bottle stoppers — a sign of my love of German and Austrian wines, where these are almost exclusively used. They are also nearly useless for reusing. There was one rubber stopper/pourer, a Vacu Vin pump to eliminate air from an opened bottle and create a vacuum, five Vacu Vin stoppers to use with that pump, a glass decanter stopper, a round foil drip guard branded with a Chilean winery’s logo, a key ring/bottle opener from the now gone Energy Federal Credit Union, and a cheap aluminum beer bottle opener marked TAIWAN, a souvenir of my Mandarin studies there in the 1980s.
So what gadgets are useful if you are not a wine fanatic, but a regular drinker looking to get the best out of your vino?
An opener, obviously. I prefer the waiter’s corkscrew, described above, over an “angel’s wing” opener or ah-so. Look for an open spiral on the “worm,” the part that penetrates the cork. The angel’s wing is the opener that looks as if it’s doing jumping jacks. The ah-so, favored at California wineries, has two prongs, one slightly longer than the other, that you wriggle down between the cork and the bottle, then twist and pull the cork out. I don’t like these, because I usually end up pushing the cork into the bottle. When I actually succeed in getting a cork out, I exclaim, “Ah, so that’s how it works!”
Wine collectors with deep cellars will want to invest in a Durand wine opener. This is a pricey gadget, at $125, but it is probably worth it if you have a lot of old wines with potentially crumbly corks. The Durand combines the spiral worm of a regular opener with the two prongs of the ah-so, which slide down the side of the cork and help you twist it out of the bottle in one piece.
The Vacu Vin pump is useful for anyone who doesn’t regularly finish a bottle in one evening. Sticking the cork back in, or screwing the cap back on, is probably fine if you’re going to finish the wine in the next day or two, but if you want to keep it longer, the Vacu Vin helps protect the wine from oxygen. Other products, such as Private Preserve, will inject an inert gas into the bottle, which you then close with any stopper. The gas protects the wine from oxygen.
You can spend a lot of money on wine accessories, and not just those that fit in your kitchen drawer. Coolers to keep your cellar at the proper temperature, or special refrigerators to preserve just a few cases of wine at the optimal temp — for most of us, these are not necessary.
But if you get hooked, be ready for your kitchen drawer to fill quickly!