Arguably, the most important wine accessory to own is a good wine opener. After all, what good is a bottle of wine if you can’t easily open it?
Like most kitchen and drinks gadgets, you’ve got options—and some are better suited to certain occasions than others. From a simple corkscrew wine opener perfect for tucking into a picnic basket or toting onto a boat, to a wall-mounted lever-style wine opener that’ll get guests talking at your next dinner party, the variety in wine openers is as wide as the universe of grape varietals is vast. (Okay, maybe not that vast, but definitely diverse!)
Below, we break down the different types of wine openers and when to use each style.
The Best Waiter’s Corkscrews
A waiter’s corkscrew includes a metal spiral, hinge (single or double) and serrated blade. The pocket-sized gadget is a favorite among sommeliers and wine directors working in restaurants and bars.
“If it is good for a professional to use when opening dozens of bottles a night, it will be ideal at home,” says Laura Koffer, vice president of wine at Wine Access, an online wine retailer.
To use a waiter’s corkscrew, carefully remove the foil capsule with the serrated blade. Insert the corkscrew at the center of the cork and screw in into the cork, slowly. Finally, draw the cork out gently, using the hinge or double hinge for leverage.
But how do you choose the right waiter’s corkscrew? There are three “musts,” says Andrew Elder, manager at two Michelin-starred JÔNT in Washington, D.C.: “A double hinge to assist with opening, a quality blade for cutting the foil and through wax if needed and solid metal [construction] to prevent breakage and enhance durability.”
It’s worth paying more for that double hinge, says Melissa Smith, founder of Enotrias Elite Sommelier Services and consultant for restaurants and private cellars. “The two-step lever makes it easy to swiftly remove corks,” she explains. Otherwise, you might get stuck with a cork that’s half in, half out. Meanwhile, a retractable corkscrew with a built-in foil cutter is great for those new to using this style of wine opener.
The good news? With noted exceptions, waiter’s corkscrews tend to be less expensive than other openers. Generally, however, they require a certain amount of manual effort and dexterity to extract the cork. Experts say that shouldn’t deter you. Once you’ve done it a few times, it’s a breeze.
“If you place [the corkscrew] just to the left of the center, straighten it up and start turning, you’ll get it right each time,” says Tara Olesky, sommelier and owner of Tablewine, a wine club. “Another tip is to stop turning when you have one curve still sticking out of the cork.”
Other variations of the classic corkscrew include a wing or “butterfly” wine opener (named for the gadget’s wing-like motif that appears once the cork is ready to be popped), which does a lot of the work for you. Additionally, a twin-blade wine opener, where two prongs straddle the cork, is similar but is best used for very old bottles.
“It is used to open very old library wines that have very fragile corks, so is a great option for wine collectors, as well as sommeliers working at any restaurant with older bottles or guests that bring in older bottles,” says Smith.
At the end of the day, the right corkscrew opener for you is one that “should feel comfortable in your hand,” says Koffer. “The blade should be sharp so as to not mangle the foil.”
The Best Electric Wine Openers
As its name implies, this type of wine opener needs either electricity or charged batteries in order to pop a cork. That doesn’t mean you’ll always need to use one near an electrical outlet: Debbie Jones, certified sommelier at Michelin-starred Clover Hill in Brooklyn Heights, New York, says some models can open up to 40 bottles of wine before needing a charge. However, one downside among users is storage, as these tend to be too large to slip into a drawer. (They’re usually still small enough to slip into a tote bag, though.)
“That’s a consideration if you’re working with a smaller kitchen,” notes Olesky. On the fence about getting one? “You could always test one at your local cookware store,” she adds.
One of the biggest draws to an electric one opener is that “the [electric] requires no work” and do the job in seconds, says Bash Hovian, who works as a private bartender in Los Angeles. Many models include “a base that the bottle is placed on, and the opener is lowered onto the bottle using a button or switch. The opener then automatically extracts the cork, and the bottle is released from the opener.”
Ryan Plas, known as the “wine guy” at Coquette in New Orleans, echoes the quick-and-easy sentiment “Electric wine openers are great if you’re hosting a lot of people or own a business that has a high volume of wine-bottle sales opened,” he says.
But an electric wine opener isn’t right for all bottles. “I would not recommend using an automatic wine opener on a wine that has bottle age or a cork with mold or in poor condition,” says Jones. “There is a high possibility the cork might break.” Instead, use an electric wine opener for younger wines.
Speaking of age, those who suffer from arthritis may find this to be a better option than the corkscrew, as electric openers don’t require any manual effort.
“Electric wine openers can ease the pain of aging,” says Lindsey Anderson, a sommelier and owner of Uvae Kitchen & Wine Bar and Uvae Fromagerie & Tasting Room in Chicago. “Arthritis in [the] hands or wrists can make it difficult to maneuver other options for a nightly glass.”
Two Electric Blue models earn rave reviews for both performance and appearance: the Electric Blue 1 Automatic Wine Opener and Preserver Kit and the Electric Blue Push-Button Corkscrew. With both sleek options, simply place over the wine bottle, press a button and the cork is pulled out. The opener and preserver kit is a little more expensive, but it works double duty by vacuum sealing the bottle, keeping out oxygen to preserve your bottle for drinking later.
The Best Lever-Style Wine Openers
To operate a lever-style wine opener, remove a bottle’s foil, place the bottle within the opener’s enclosure and move the handle towards you, with less force than you would need for a corkscrew wine opener.
Some of these lever-style openers are showy, offering both form and function. For instance, the Legacy Corkscrew with Black Marble Stand and Handle comes in pewter or antique bronze—far more elegant than the stainless-steel, wood or coated metal construction other wine opener options. The corkscrew flaunts an antique-bronze finish. You can even further personalize the automatic wine opener by ordering monogramming for the black-marble stand.
An automatic wine opener can remain freestanding or, if you’re sold on a spot to consistently use it, mounted to any tabletop surface. A more affordable investment is simply the Legacy Corkscrew with Black Marble Handle, which comes without a stand and can be easily be mounted anywhere you like.
If space is an issue wherever you uncork wine, consider a hand-held lever-style wine opener. The L’Atelier du Vin Black Matte and Wood Lever Corkscrew is both stylish and functional, and it weighs less than two pounds. Think of it like a corkscrew opener, but with oomph. It does the same job—with less manpower.