The Best Corkscrew for Opening Wine
Although you can spend plenty of money on a gadgety wine opener, the best bet is to stick with a simple double-hinged waiter's corkscrew. We especially like True Fabrications' Truetap—the best knock off of the legendary waiter's tap, the Pulltap—and recommend it as your best choice. It's the right combination of price—$5 to $9 on Amazon—ease of use, and size, and the preferred style of pretty much every wine expert we spoke to. At the same time, it's plenty easy to use at home, despite its manual nature.
Why Go Simple?
There are many different styles of corkscrews, ranging from a simple “wing,” where the worm (the metal helix that is driven into the cork) runs perpendicular to a wood handle, to electronic beasts that do all the work for you at the push of a button. Depending on the style, one can spend anywhere from a few bucks to hundreds. We found that $10 or less is all that’s necessary.
To figure out the best options, we spoke to a number of wine servers and sommeliers, people who open bottle after bottle, night after night, among other experts. “You want a corkscrew that is easy to use and takes up as little space as possible. You also want ones that are made well and aren’t too expensive,” says Michael Madrigale, head sommelier for Michelin-star chef Daniel Boulud’s Bar Boulud, Epicerie Boulud, and Boulud Sud. “For home use, simple is best,” Ray Isle, Food & Wine Magazine’s executive wine editor agrees. “I still prefer a waiter’s corkscrew to anything else,” he told us.
“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,” said Jordan Salcito, wine director of David Chang’s Momofuku restaurant group, and formerly of Eleven Madison Park, where she was part of a James Beard Award-winning beverage team. She told us that one should look for “a wine key that fits easily in (his or her) hand, has a long, sharp, knife capable of cutting a clean edge, and can extract long corks cleanly.”
Waiter’s corkscrews go by many different names: sommelier knife, waiter’s friend, and wine key among them. Their primary function, as with any corkscrew, is to remove the corks from bottles of wine, of course, but they generally have a small blade for removing the foil, as well as a bottle opener for popping the top off a beer. They’re often quite small, with the Pulltap’s-style folding down to about five inches long, and less than half an inch wide.
“Double-hinged” refers to the the metal lever that folds out from the body of the corkscrew, and sits against the mouth of the bottle. There are actually two steps; you first lift from the lip in the middle, and then, once the lever has reached its apex, the one at the end. You might also see this style referred to as a double lever. Single-hinged/levered options are out there too, but they don’t offer as much leverage and therefore require more yanking. With the double-hinged style, the cork comes right out. OXO’s Good Grips Waiter’s Corkscrew is pretty nice for $10, but it only has a single hinge; a new, double-hinged version is coming this fall.
The Experts’ Pick
Again and again, the experts told us Pulltap’s is the way to go. Tria’s McCaulley told us, “For everyday purposes we recommend a double-hinged Pulltap’s… Often times when you buy a corkscrew without a double hinge, especially if you’re inexperienced, you break corks very easily.” Asked why he specifically likes this model, he said, “It’s very light…it has a nice sharp blade, and it has a ridge to the blade, and the ridge really cuts through the foil really well. It has a thin worm that is made of strong metal.”
Jill Zimorski, wine director at the Hotel Jerome and formerly of Bryan Voltaggio’s Volt in Frederick, Maryland, agrees. “For non-wine professionals, a simple $10 Pulltap’s model with the double action hinge is perfectly appropriate and acceptable. The Pulltap’s is good because it’s sturdy (I’ve had some for years and years), effective and inexpensive. What more could you want? And if you want flair, then you can order a colored one. There are also some slightly fancy versions (chrome and such) if desired.”
While Pulltex’s Pulltap’s is the major name brand when it comes to waiter’s corkscrews, there are many others. They range from no-name companies, to more premium sellers. Laguiole’s Waiter’s Corkscrew is $20, while the handmade options from Code38 start at over $200. These options are nice, but not necessary for most wine drinkers. They merely add flair, not functionality.
Pulltap’s is a go-to brand for wine folks, and I can see why. The construction feels sturdy, the lever is solid, and the knife is sharp. In a New York Times article about Code38, the paper’s wine critic Eric Asimov called Pulltap’s his “standby home corkscrew.” Cook’s Illustrated picked the Pulltap as its top choice. Consumer Reports tested a number of electronic corkscrews, but included a few manual models in the mix, calling Pulltap’s “one worth trying.” Maggie Hoffman is the drinks editor for Serious Eats, and has also pitted wine openers against each other to find the best. “Pulltap’s is a go-to brand for wine folks, and I can see why. The construction feels sturdy, the lever is solid, and the knife is sharp.”
But There’s a Catch…
So it sounds pretty straightforward, right? Pick up a Pulltap’s, and you’re all set. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Pulltex claims its Pulltap’s to be the progenitor of the style. “We have designed the first double lever corkscrew, called Pulltap’s,” said Matías Martínez Romegialli, the company’s assistant sales export representative. “Unfortunately for us, there are countless knockoff brands around the world.” A quick search on Amazon shows this to be true, with dozens of models that claim to be the real thing. This wouldn’t be so bad if Pulltex sold directly in the U.S., but the Barcelona-based company’s website adds exorbitant shipping fees. It’s hard to actually find a Pulltap’s that you know is a Pulltap’s, at least in the States.
We ordered three of the models that advertised themselves to be true and authentic from Amazon, and received a review sample of the Pulltap Corkscrew from True Fabrications, “the leading wine lifestyle brand.” Of the trio purchased from Amazon, which ranged in price from $2 to $10, one came with no logo etched into the metal arm, one came with the Pulltap’s name and the phrase “Patent,” and the other…well, we’re still waiting for it to arrive from China. The corkscrew from True Fabrications is identical to the Pulltap’s-engraved model from Amazon, leading us to believe they’re both authentic. It’s hard to say for sure though, because neither came in Pulltex or Pulltap’s packaging. While they all look pretty much the same, small differences in the details of the no-name model make it feel cheaper.
True Fabrications offers an alternative called Truetap, and we feel the most comfortable recommending it as an easily accessible option. While it’s a knockoff of the style—really, identical save for the name engraved in the hinge—it’s a high quality option with all the same benefits. Because they’re so much the same, all the input from the experts we spoke to still applies.
When asked what the difference between the models was, True Fabrications’ Lindsey Wilcox told us, “The Pulltap’s and Truetap are essentially the same product. We produce the Truetap, allowing us to pass along a better price to our customer as well as more color variety. Aside from the lower prices and color variety, there is no difference.” Holding them side by side, we found this to be totally true. A Truetap looks and feels just like a Pulltap’s, but is consistently available for less than $10 on Amazon. It’s also great that True Fabrications stands behind its products with a complete, lifetime guarantee. If something breaks, the company “will take it back and offer a replacement or refund, no questions asked.”
We have experience with several different styles of corkscrews, but before diving into research on this piece, never used a waiter’s corkscrew. We tested each, by, well, opening bottles of wine. Not surprisingly, they all worked exactly the same. We found the process to be even easier than we expected, and had the process down after the first bottle. None of the openers fell apart, and none broke the cork. The double hinge makes a big difference by providing so much leverage. Even though there were no differences in how they worked, we think it makes sense to spend just a few dollars more to buy something from an actual company with a standalone website and people you can talk to, rather than a fly by night third party on Amazon.
When you’re ready to open a bottle, we found the method suggested by Gary Vaynerchuk, the founder of Wine Library, to be about as easy as can be. First, he shows that you can simply pull the foil off the bottle, rather than cutting it. Then, place the worm in the center of the cork, and, rather than turning the opener, turn the bottle to start the drive. Once the worm in, turn the corkscrew the rest of the way—about five rotations total. Then use the mechanics of the lever to lift it, and your vino is ready to go. If it seems hard, don’t worry. “Opening a bottle is a relatively simple procedure and gets easier with practice; if you’re not very good at it, you clearly should be drinking more wine,” says Hotel Jerome’s Zimorski.
If You Feel Like Spending a Little More
OXO released its new Double Lever Waiter’s Corkscrew. Retailing for $15, and selling on Amazon for a little over $18, it competes with Truetap in every way. The general structure is the same, but the look and feel are both more premium. There’s also a slightly different lever design, bottle cap opener, and blade design. While it’s functionally the same, the bottle opener and blade are better; the double lever works as well as Truetap’s.
As far as build goes, if you’ve used OXO products before, the steel body and matte rubber handle will be very familiar. It’s also slightly larger than Truetap in all dimensions, and heavier by 44 grams, which lends it a pleasantly heavy feel in the hand.
Rather than the smooth motion that Truetap offers when you open and close it, the metal lever on this one clicks into place when compacted or extended. It won’t change positions unless you want it to. The double lever arrangement helps in removing longer corks, as you can get leverage from two positions. It works just as well as Truetap, which is to say, very smoothly. There’s little to no difference in how good they are at removing corks.
Also nice are the foil cutting blade, which is rounded, rather than straight and serrated, making for a smoother cut along head of the bottle — it’s better than the Truetap in this regard — and the beer bottle opener at the other end. With two lifting arms, compared to one on Truetap, you can open a bottle either underhand over overhand, whichever is more comfortable.
We’ll put it in bottle opening rotation and update if we see any long term use issues with it.
In its comparison of electric wine openers, they found the Waring Pro Professional Cordless Wine Opener to be best, and Oster’s Inspire Electric Wine Opener to be the runner up. On Amazon, the latter model has 4.3 stars with almost 1,300 reviews, and it comes highly recommended from Consumer Reports, along with the electric wine bottle opener from Emerson. With these electric models, you simply put them in place, press a button, and let them do the work.
A few new manual corkscrews have popped up since we originally published, and we pitted them against the Truetap to see if they offer a better experience. Both are variations on the traditional Pulltap-style design. Pulltex’s Pullparrot ($7) has two key features that make it a little different. The first is the knobs on either side of the cutting blade, which make it easy to flip the knife out with just a thumb. For a waiter who has to open bottles quickly, this could be a great feature, but we’ve been happy following Gary Vaynerchuk’s advice, and simply pulling the foil off rather than cutting it. Either way, to many people at home, this won’t be a huge advantage. The other difference is how the double lever works. The inner step isn’t fixed, but rather, is spring-loaded. It must be pushed in to be used, which adds a level of complexity to something that works fine without it. This is a good option, but doesn’t beat our top choice.
Then there’s Innovation ($10) from Coutale Sommelier. It also has an improved cutting tool: when you open the lever, the knife automatically closes. We like the idea, but our review model was slightly off-center, meaning the blade would miss its mark. A nudge got it back on track, but it would still be askew about half the time. As for the lever, this one is double-hinged but actually more difficult to use. A tab at the far end of the lever must be pushed in towards the bottle to activate the first lever. If you don’t hold it the right way, the lever slips right off of the mouth of the bottle. Hold it right and this won’t be an issue, but we suspect many people will make this mistake at least a few times. It’s a nice-looking opener, but one with a frustrating design decision.
Wrapping it Up
Ultimately, waiter’s corkscrews are great, and the True Fabrications Truetap is at the top of the pile. We wish it were easier to recommend Pulltap’s, as Pulltex deserves credit for originating the look and feel. The Truetap is simply going to be easier for most people to get their hands on, and it’s a high quality product in its own right. If you can find a Pulltap’s at a good price, and know you’re getting the real thing, don’t hesitate to pick that up either.
The $410 Corkscrew, The New York Times, April 19, 2011,"Well, when I pick up my standby home corkscrew, a Pulltap’s double-hinged waiter’s friend, I’m not wowed by the black plastic handle, flimsy metal fulcrum and serrated foil cutter. It works fine, but I confess I don’t feel much of anything about it. "
Which Is the Best Corkscrew?, Serious Eats, December 20, 2012,"At $6, the Truetap is a much, much better choice. The knife is quite small, but it's easy to release and use...The coil is thicker, longer, and less tightly-wound than the plastic corkscrew above"
How to Open a wine bottle with Gary Vaynerchuk, WonderHowTo