It happens to servers. It happens to Master Sommeliers. It happens to everyone, usually when other people are watching.
Cork problems are universal. While there’s never a convenient time for a cork to misbehave, don’t let a crumbly cork ruin the evening. Here are a few tips on how to remove a broken cork from a wine bottle in any situation.
“I always tell my staff that 90% of the time cork breakage happens out of impatience,” says Laura Staley, wine director at Row 34 in Boston, Massachusetts. “Just take time to assess the situation and don’t panic.”
For example, let’s say your cork completely breaks in half when you go to open the bottle. There’s one piece in the neck and the other snapped off in your hands. In this precarious situation, there are two ways to rescue that lovely bottle of wine.
“Try and see if you can reach your corkscrew in the remaining cork slowly while still applying pressure to pull it out,” says Staley. “If that doesn’t work, you might have to sink the cork and decant the rest of the wine.”
The cork can also be stubborn and not want to budge at all. “In this instance, insert the corkscrew and apply slow and steady firm pressure for 10 seconds,” says Staley.
Sadly, sometimes the cork decides to give up the ghost altogether and crumble into a million pieces within your bottle. It’s okay to silently whisper an expletive or two but, once again, do not panic.
“If the cork is ruined, grab a coffee filter, put the filter in the glass, and strain out the pieces,” says Staley. If you’re serving the wine to others in a professional situation, be upfront with the guests about what happened. “The cork will not affect the taste of the wine.”
Consider Your Corkscrew
Many cork problems can be prevented with a proactive approach. First, consider the type of bottle you plan to open.
“If you know that you’re going to be drinking an older bottle from the cellar, I probably wouldn’t just go for my everyday corkscrew,” says Staley. “It will break the cork. I’d use a Durand for more hold.”
This type of corkscrew has two parts: one akin to a waiter’s corkscrew and another that separates the cork from the glass. If you collect older bottles, a tool designed for delicate corks might be worth considering.
On the other hand, if cork breakage becomes a pattern, even in younger bottles of wine, it might be a matter of an old or rusty tool. Take a look at your corkscrew and make sure its hinges remain flexible and the screw is still intact. If anything seems off, maybe it’s time for an upgrade.
Store Bottles Carefully
Corks are a natural product and will deteriorate over time so it’s important to protect your precious cargo. If you intend to open the bottles within a week or so it’s okay to keep the wines easily accessible and on the counter. This will not affect the cork at all. If you are looking to store bottles for more than a month or start collecting, keep in mind that factors such as temperature and humidity can affect the cork quality.
Consider storing in a cool, dark place like a closet if you’re a beginner and maybe investing in a wine cooler if collecting becomes more of an interest.
No matter what situation arises, don’t fret. With the proper tools, practice and patience, that broken cork doesn’t stand a fighting chance.