Imagine the sun setting over a lakeside picnic dinner. The mood is relaxed and your date is smiling. You pull out an expensive bottle of wine, reach for the corkscrew — and … it’s sitting on the counter back at home between a plate of three-day-old lasagna and a basket of dirty clothes. Now what?
Of course, this is a hypothetical situation, but it’s one that happens often. I’m notorious for misplacing corkscrews. I’d blame it on the wine, but it takes the right tool to open a bottle. Or does it?
Experts and wine enthusiasts have a handful of tricks up their sleeves when in this predicament. “If you’re really in a pinch, I’m not opposed to pushing the cork into the bottle with a blunt object and decanting out any cork bits,” says master sommelier Whitney Adams.
CMS-certified sommelier Jayme Henderson has also averted a crisis using a similar technique. When she forgot to bring a corkscrew on a trip to Indiana a few years ago, she ended up using a pocket knife to open five bottles of wine. “I take a sturdy pocket knife and carefully wedge the knife between the cork and the neck of the bottle. I then circle around the cork, gently wiggling the knife, loosening the seal of the cork from the glass. Then I take the base of the pocket knife or another non-sharp object that will fit through the neck of the bottle and gently force the loosened cork down into the bottle,” she explains.
Here are ten other mind-blowing ways to open wine without a corkscrew*:
Sabrage, the act of cleanly (not hacking) severing the top off a wine bottle, is often used for ceremonial occasions like weddings, but can work any time you find yourself without a corkscrew – and if you happen to have the right bottle. Champagne and other bubblies are ideal varieties for this technique. “If it’s a bottle of bubbly, sabering is your best friend,” Adams says. “I’ve used the more traditional chef’s knife, but I’ve also resorted to using an ashtray and a hammer, which both worked.” The goal is to hit the lower lip of the top of the bottle and snap off the top of the neck. Glass usually doesn’t get into the wine because the force carries it away. Just be careful. Some glass can still land on the floor. The legendary food show personality Alton Brown demonstrates this technique on YouTube. As he notes, this can be a dangerous undertaking and should be used with extreme caution.
If you do end up lakeside or on the beach without a bottle opener or traditional pair of shoes (sneakers work great), don’t worry – your flip flops will come in handy. The flip-flop wine bottle hack is quick and easy. Just snuggle the bottom of the bottle around the strap and tap the flip flop sideways on a tree. The cork will work its way out. Here’s a demonstration from Mirabeau Wine founder Stephen Cronk.
Deva Dalporto, creator of funny mom videos, shared this photo on Instagram:
Photo by Deva Dalporto
When her family was in a bind, they drove a screw into the cork with a screwdriver, and then removed the entire cork with a pair of pliers. “It remains one of the moments in life that my husband really impressed me,” Dalporto says. If you don’t have a pair of pliers, the back of a hammer works too.
Keys are a multi-purpose tool and work wonders when you need to crack open a bottle of blush. “In a pinch, use your keys to push the cork back in the bottle. The result is messy and you may get splashed, but you don’t risk breaking the bottle,” says master sommelier, Fernando Beteta. Alternatively, with a synthetic cork, you can insert the key like a screw, break the seal and twist the cork out. Here’s a quick how-to from the Crazy Russian Hacker.
If you happen to have a bicycle or other air pump hanging around, you can use the pressure to disengage the cork. First, insert the pump needle somewhere between the cork and side of the wine bottle. Give it three to four pumps (be careful not to over pump as the bottle could explode). The cork should now be loose enough to remove it from the bottle. In this video, Kris Chislett and Joe Talentino of BlogYourWine.com show you how open to open a bottle of wine with a bike pump.
If you have a bottle of old wine with a cork that is likely to crumble, heated tongs are your best friend. This method originated in Portugal as an alternative to opening very old bottles of wine with corks that tended to crumble from age. All you have to do is heat tongs until burning, place them around the neck of the bottle (just below the cork), and leave them there for about 10 seconds. Rub some chilly water onto the neck using a brush or kitchen towel (don’t burn yourself). Then break off the top using a thick towel or pair of gloves. Pour the wine through a sieve or other strainer to avoid the potential of eating glass. For a nice, romantic twist, you can use a feather dipped in chilly water in place of a brush or towel.
Two paper clips slipped between the cork and side of the bottle is another way to get into the vino. But this one will take a bit of work. Straighten two paper clips, slide each one down the neck of the bottle (along opposite sides of the cork), twist the top of the clips around a pencil, pen or spoon handle, and pull up on the cork. Pop!
Using a blow torch might be the least intuitive method on this list, but it has the potential to be dangerous. So, suit up and put on some protective eyewear. The idea is that heating up the air in the neck of the bottle between the wine and the cork will cause the air to expand enough to pop the cork right out. Here’s how it’s done: Set the bottle on a table (do not hold it), turn the blow torch on, and move the flame around the neck of the bottle several inches from the glass. Keep the heat on there for about a minute. The cork might fly right out, so don’t lean over the top of the bottle. For a more visual explanation, check out this video.
Pop the cork down into the bottle using one of the methods listed here. Now, tie a figure-eight knot at the end of a string or shoelace. Dip the string into the bottle so that it is under the cork. Using the string, nudge the cork up into the neck and wiggle it out. Removing the cork will allow a better flow and eliminate any remnants of cork being left behind.
In a truly desperate situation, you can always smash a bottle open. Place a thick towel around the bottom of the bottle of wine. Holding it over a clean bucket or large pot, use a hammer or long piece of heavy metal to smash the bottle wrapped inside the towel (wear gloves and protective eyewear). The wine will rush out through the material, leaving the glass behind. Always sieve a second time to make sure all shards of glass are gone.
*To avoid these methods, don’t forget the corkscrew!