Do you really need a $300 corkscrew?
As the Wine Director for American Express’s Centurion Lounges, I fly all over the country to check on wine service at our seven lounges (and soon to be more) at LGA, MIA, LAS, SFO, DFW, IAH and SEA. That means I give a lot of corkscrews to the TSA. In my defense, it’s not so much on the way heading into the airports but on my way back home, usually after a few glasses of wine—which is research, of course! When I recently surrendered a slick, black-handled model to a sympathetic TSA officer in Miami (it was a gift from legendary Rhône winemaker Michel Chapoutier), I quipped, “At least it’s not my $300 Laguiole.” The agent squinted at me like I had two heads. Then the guy behind me said, “Who needs a $300 corkscrew?”
You know what? That’s actually a great question, so here’s the answer.
In short, you probably don’t need a $300 corkscrew, but anyone who opens the number of bottles I do—sometimes dozens, when conducting a tasting—certainly might. And I have decades of experience trying out every kind, from picnic-perfect cheap-o versions (the kind that look like a tiny plastic mallet, where the sleeve that pulls off the curly part and slides through the head to form a ‘T’ shape) to wing-handled twirly gizmos, to battery-operated types that look like nothing so much as a weird kind of sex toy. They’re all very different from each other, and they all share one common trait: They suck.
What does not suck is the type I recommend for everyone, professional or not: The classic waiter’s corkscrew. That’s the one that looks sort of like a pocketknife, with a small, hinged blade on one side, and a hinged worm (the curly part) on the other. It’s the perfect design: fits nicely into your hand, slice the foil cleanly, removes the cork with ease. But the basic design does come in hundreds of different shapes and sizes, so here are a few things to consider:
SHAPE: Curved or straight? Curved will fit better in your hand, and give you more control when pulling the cork.
BLADE: Smooth or serrated? Serrated blades tend to tear the foil, rather than cut it.
HANDLE: Most waiter’s corkscrews have plastic handles, which are fine, but better versions use wood and feel more comfortable.
WORM: Length matters; on cheap models the worm is around two inches long; on better models it’s at least four.
Then there’s price. At the lower end of the spectrum, I’ve seen some decent models by Le Creuset, including this wood-handled Waiter’s Friend ($39, amazon.com) that works well (and includes a bottle opener, too).
But for best performance, I side with the sommeliers who swear by Laguiole (pronounced “lah-yole”). The brand is named for a small mountain village in southern France, where artisans still hand-forge amazing cutlery bearing a Napoleonic bee emblem. Occasionally you can find them on sale for around $20 for a basic model; handcrafted versions start around $175. But Laguiole’s top corkscrews are their “Best Sommelier” models, which are designed by wine service professionals who’ve triumphed at the international competition hosted every three years by the Association de la Sommellerie. Those are the ones that cost $300.
Why Laguiole? “Mostly the cutting blade. It’s curved, which makes a three-swipe foil cut-and-removal nice and smooth,” says Robert Bohr, co-owner of Charlie Bird and Pasquale Jones in New York City. “The worm has a center groove, which makes removing older corks a bit easier, and the lever is sturdy but smooth. They feel good in your hand, and they’re obviously made with quality materials.” Bohr and just about every somm he knows have been using Laguiole corkscrews for years, many of them the company’s “Aldo Sohm Wine Key,” named for the past World’s Best Sommelier winner (and current wine director at Le Bernardin in NYC). Bohr, however, is waiting for Laguiole to release its “Arvid Rosengren” model, designed by this year’s World’s Best Sommelier—who also happens to be Bohr’s wine director at Charlie Bird.
The other thing that makes Laguioles so attractive is a lifetime guarantee. “If the worm breaks off or the knife comes loose, we send just send the corkscrew right back to France. Another arrives a few weeks later,” Bohr reports.
I just wish I could say the same for all the corkscrews I’ve passed along to the TSA.