Le Tire-Bouchon

many corkscrews

When I moved to France, one of the first things a friend said to me was “David, you need to get a good tire-bouchon.” Seeing as an unusually large about of wine bottles were being opened on a regular basis all around me (and seeing the recycling bin on my street was constantly overflowing), it seemed he was right: one does need a decent tire-bouchon (cork-puller) if one is going to live in France.

The problem is that there are a whole bunch to choose from, from super-fancy ones that cost hundreds of euros, to those you simply twist-and-yank, which means that you have to ungracefully put the bottle of wine between your knees and pull with all your might. And for men, a particularly stubborn cork can mean a sudden and swift heel-of-the-hand blow to les bijoux de famille.

corkscrew

Some people like those Rabbit or screwpull-style wine openers, which I hear work pretty well, but it looks a bit inelegant to me to see a giant vise-like device fastened onto a wine bottle just to pull out an itty-bitty cord. And besides that, who the heck in a small Paris apartment has room for a wine opener the size of a hand drill?

On a previous trip to Bed, Bath & Beyond in the states, my stack of 20% off coupons was burning a hole in my pocket, so I picked up a wing-type wine opener made by a company known for it’s user-friendly kitchen gadgets that always work well. In France, that kind of opener is also called a “Charles de Gaulle” because when you pull the screw part down, the two wing-like levels flying upwards to make a “V”, similar to the iconic gesture that the former French president was known for.

corkscrew

Romain hated that contraption I bought (hmm, he didn’t like something I bought, imagine that…), though, and the day the plastic shattered trying to open an unusually têtu cork, he was happy to toss it in the garbage for me. I miss it mostly because it was kind of my rosary beads when I had guests, and I would play with it, moving the levers up and down because I’m always a nervous wreck when I have company over for dinner. Which is funny because in the old days, I cooked dinner for 600 people a night. No problem.

I love my Laguiole knife, which some visiting friends bought me years ago, which some security agent at the Barcelona airport tried to take away from me (when the guard unfolded the blade and held it up a few centimeters away from my face, I got his point). But I read an article a while back that said that purists think you’re a rube if you have a Laguiole with a wine opener because you’ve tainted the original, or something like that. Tainted or not, it’s come in handy for opening bottles on the road. But still, it involved a buckling of the knees and a good, yet inelegant – and potentially painful – yank to get that cork out.

poisson corkscrew

Taking my friend’s advice, a few months into my stay in France, I steeled myself and braved the BHV department store and shelled out something €25 for a wine opener (the one with the dark wood handle), which is nicknamed le poisson because when unfolded, they say it resembles a fish. (Please don’t ask me what kind.) Although it wasn’t hugely expensive, after a few uses, the hinges started getting loose.

And worst of all, I don’t know if they started making the lips on wine bars thinner or something, but I broke a few bottle rims trying to get them open since the metal thing that gives the corkscrew leverage wasn’t long enough and would often slip when I tried to extract the cork and chip the rim. And I got wary of my French friends thinking that Americans had a weird habit of filtering wine through a coffee filter after opening it.

corkscrews

I know there are quite a few corkscrews out there and I seem to have tried them all. And the one that I’ve settled on, that seems to be the best (the black one), is from Nicolas, a chain of wine shops across France. And it cost just €4,90. Each store varies and they sell a lot of middle-of-the-road regular drinking wine, with a decent house rosé (Maures) that’s pas terrible for summer guzzling if you ice it down. So thinking about it, they would have a good all-purpose wine opener. (And that rosé they carry comes with a screw top so it does come in handy when everyone at a picnic realizes that no one remembered to bring a wine opener.)

corkscrew

So far, it seems to be doing fine. I guess I could drop a lot more on a wine opener, or try a few other kinds. But I’ve been there and done that, and I think we’re going to get along just fine. May our relationship be long—and fruitful.


80 comments

  • I think you should check out Screwpull David! Couldn’t be happier with mine and there are both cheaper and expensive models.

  • One of the things I like about French self-catering apartments is that they always supply a corkscrew! Which British ones very often don’t – luckily, my picnic-basket-cum-cold-bag is supplied with one. Now, if only they would all supply a tin-opener, too….

  • Thank you David for not buying/owning/recommending the 200€ opener that all the American wine snobs have and all the French wine connaisseurs laugh at :)

    I learned in Bordeaux that the key to a good wine opener is a teflon coated cork screw. This makes all the difference and it is just as often found on the cheap openers as the expensive ones. Looks like your black one is teflon coated.

  • I think we bought our ‘Nicholas’ cork screw at least 6 years ago and its still going strong after much use!

  • sorry, that should have been it’s still going strong…..

  • Annabel: Perhaps because many of the tins in France have pull-tops?

    stephanie: I know professionals (or people who open a lot of wine) often like those big, fancy wine openers – to avoid stress injuries and so forth – but after trying a bunch of openers, this little number seems to be the best. It is teflon plus (and something I learned that’s important) – it is a ‘two-stager’ (a term I just learned), so once the cork is half-extracted, you just flip it down to the second tier and easily yank the cork out. Voilà!

    angela: Yes, for all that rosé in the south of France, am sure your tire-bouchon gets a good work out…

  • When I was a kid I used to play with the “Charle de Gaulle” cause it reminded me of a cheering man. However I usually use the opener that is part of my little swiss army knife and it works fine for me and from all the rosés I consumed on the beaches of Nice I only broke one cork with it.
    On a different note: I was really impressed with the french can openers, the ones that are not much more than a slim piece of metal. It’s the most efficient kitchen tool I’ve come across in a long time and being German that doesn’t come over my lips easily.

  • Have you ever seen a Rosendahl corkscrew? It’s a Danish design and completely eliminates the need to pull the cork, so you can forget about holding the bottle between your knees. Not as powerful as screwpull but alot cheaper.

  • I agree with Birgitta, the Screwpull is the best for home and travel.

  • I bought a lovely bottle of rose last week in SW France (for something silly like 3euro) and when I got back to my little cottage discovered I am the proud owner of the only Swiss Army knife known to man WITHOUT a corkscrew. How is that even possible? I thought it was a rule that every one had to have one. Argh. I would have happily done the inelegant between the knee pull thing at that point. I could have used you last week.

  • Kathy: I’ve learned that aside from the blade, the corkscrew is the most important attachment to have on a Swiss army knife. I don’t even know why they sell them without them? (I mean, what’s with the magnifying glass..when you could have a wine opener?)

  • I see there are many different Screwpulls. Is there a generic one?

  • Oh David, thanks for another giggle over my morning coffee–les bijoux de famille!

  • The one you’ve settled on looks very much like the one my husband and I use. It’s from his bartending days, and he says it’s what most of his server friends use. Sure, it’s not as easy to use as some more elaborate models, but it’s compact and it works well enough.

  • I’m pretty sure you’d be able to find yourself a fabulous tire-bouchon in here. Be sure to read the reviews ; )

    Giant Swiss Army Knife

    • omg. that’s hilarious! – and you’re right; the ‘reviews’ are pretty out there as well…

  • Michael and I agree – that last one is our favorite too!

  • The two-stager is the bomb! We have carted ours around for fifteen years. It came from a little wine store outside of Chiusi, Italy, where we stopped one night to buy wine and cheese after getting off the plane too late for dinner even in Europe.

    It never fails to work. Plus it’s compact and easy to travel with, although I don’t put it in my carry-on because I’m afraid some TSA will call it a weapon and confiscate my treasured souvenir.

    I bought a second one in the States for backup, and it was $10. So your price doesn’t seem out of line.

  • What’s wrong with a screwtop cap ??? I’ve heard it’s all the rage.. I’m not a wine drinker, by the way, so I do not speak from experience… Cheers Dave..

  • I’m talking about corked taint…..and all that…

  • The next time you are in the Vaucluse stop at le musee tire bouchon in Menerbes, if it still exists.

  • David, I’ve worked as a serveuse for almost 15 years, and I use the same kind of corkscrew that you use. The double hinged ones are great for getting out those stubborn corks, without holding it between ones legs and making a fool of oneself.

  • As long as it’s double jointed, that’s the most important thing. The wine key, David, the wine key…

  • I have the same corkscrew: I bought it in Lyon, nearly a decade ago, after having the word “tire-bouchon” burned into my brain by trying to sort out the French for “corkscrew” in several different shops. (And yes: hilarity ensued).

    Now we have several of this handy black corkscrew that we call the “two-step:” whenever I see one in the States I tend to buy it, just in case ours gets lost or breaks. But my original from Lyon is still going strong and is the only thing that gets out those stubborn vinho verde corks.

  • Love the Coutale! Picked some up as gifts when I visited Bordeaux a few years back. I just love the action it is so much more natural.

  • The reason that Laguiole makes knives with corkscrews (or corkscrews without knives attached) is because a lot of men from the Aveyron region, where Laguiole is, ended up moving to Paris to start or work in cafés in the second half of the 19th century. The regional knifemakers started making corkscrews for these men to take with them to their new lives in Paris – so anyone saying that a Laguiole with a corkscrew isn’t ‘correct’ doesn’t know the history of the product and its region!

  • I use the rabbit one at home. It’s so easy and I don’t ruin the cork they way I do when using other styles. We also have the one with the prongs that slide between the cork and the bottle neck. It works great, too…if you can get the prongs in!

  • My favorite wine opener ever was the waiters wine opener that I got with my kit at the CIA. It was heavy, double hinged, and had a sharp knife. It was perfect, until I lent it to someone at work and never got it back. If I still worked in a restaurant that served a lot of wine I would buy a new one. I miss it.

  • Thank you for this article; it really took me back.

    Years ago I worked at a 4-star resort in the States which did a thriving banquet business. I started there as a bar-back, and one of my responsibilities was opening literally hundreds of bottles before a function.

    I was given what I would call a “single-hinge” opener with a teflon coating. The blade is finely serrated, rather than a with a sharp edge. It has the brand name of “Papio”, and until reading here I never noticed is is made in France and stamped with the Wine Appreciation Guild, of which now I must do more research.

    All I can say is this opener had never let me down or split a cork, and most of all no knee-gymnastics!

  • I have an opener just like the Nicolas version. It lives attached to my petanque boules bag so that when playing petanque there is always an opener handy. You never know when a bottle will make an appearance at the petanque courts (often).

    At home, while I do have a drawer full of various openers given to me over the years, my favorite is my Laguiole with a polished wood handle and inlaid metal scroll work. Bloody expensive, but it has heft and wide metal, er… lips, to rest on the bottle’s lips when leveraging the cork out. It has never chipped a bottle, and well, quite a few bottles have been leveraged. (There most be other terms for these parts and actions but they escape me at the moment.)

    I know Opinel makes a few bottle openers, but in my book Opinel is consecrated to the pocket knife. It doesn’t get more old French then to have your Opinel in pocket should some hard cheese or a sucisson sec come your way.

    As always, a pleasure reading your blog.

    WW

  • I think that this was the “FUNNIEST” offering you have ever made. And…. I love my wings….I am 68 and have the same wings since I was 20 years old. I feel in command when opening a bottle. Unlike when you place those two straight pins down the side or when you “pump” air in……or play with that rabbit, which I have NEVER figured out. NO! NO! give me the cork screw with the wings. I have one in chrome and the old one is a brass one…..love ya, and keep on writing, as you are so wonderful……………………….

  • Your post couldn’t have come at a better time. We are in the Provence area after being in Paris and my brother has requested a small, the smallest we can find, wine opener. My Mom and I had no clue. Thanks so much!

  • I use a corkscrew that Tupperware makes; it’s plastic and coated with Teflon. Never had a problem. The plastic can expand a bit to accommodate a wide mouth bottle. Have you ever seen the video of how to uncork a bottle with just your shoe? I think it is pretty hilarious…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHTADX5nxT8.

  • You make the corkscrews look better than the wine they liberate. (Well, OK, almost. :-) )

  • I’ve been down the Poisson and Wings Road myself – the Poisson was expensive (and so glamorous: deep blue) at the time, both broke after a short time – now I have a Pulltap double-hinged …it cost less than €5 and I love it …just looked and it has the Teflon coating … I need to go buy a spare !

  • I agree with Celia! Love my Wings also. Easy to use. Mine made in Italy, had it for many years.

  • Screwpull. Get the compact one and it’s no larger than those you’re using. We’ve been dedicated screwpull users for nearly two decades. Yes, the small pocket or picnic sized one is perfect!

    This is this one I speak of.

    My dad has gone through more wine openers than one can imagine (I think he’s single handedly kept the local wine shop in business) and we try them all at his house. I’m NOT a fan of the Rabbit variety of wine openers myself. I’ll keep my screwpull thank you very much!

  • I know this will make you snort but since my husband has severe wrist problems, I bought an electric wine bottle opener from Wine Enthusiast. It is very cool and more cork and no more coffee filters sacrificed..

    • I’ve worked around a lot of waiters and bartenders so know that it can get hard on one’s wrists opening a lot of wine. So anything that helps your husband open a bottle sounds like a good solution to me!

  • I love my two stage corkscrew as it never fails to pull a cork cleanly from the bottle with a minimum of fuss. My favorite though is my Puigpull. It works like a car jack (off a ’68 Buick, as my husband says). It is fun and functional and never ceases to be a conversation starter!

  • We have one just like your black one and it is the best we have ever used. No more split corks or cork dust in the wine. So easy to use. Ours is Spanish made and we found it through Lee Valley.

  • I now know what I need to pick up on our next trip to France.

    As there is rarely a decent bottle opener in American hotels, I keep one in my suitcase. My last fish-style opener was recently confiscated at an American airport because the very short and blunt foil opener (folded in your photo) could have been used as a weapon, according to the agent. Whereas the much longer and sharply pointed corkscrew portion was apparently perfectly safe…

    Although I do like the look of that travel Screwpull mentioned by Nevadamtnbear . I do love my Screwpull at home.

  • I like the same type of wine opener best, the one with the jointed lever; it is by far the best easiest and simplest way to pull a cork. Plus, I like the beercap opener as well (mine opens toward the body rather than away, which always trips people up who have never used it–that’s not why I like it though :).

    I was given mine by a wineshop dude in Barcelona and I had it pulled from my luggage in Frankfurt. I must have looked quite stricken as I explained to the airport security guy how much I loved it because he told me he understood and then walked me all the way around to the check-in counter, escorted me to the front of the line, and gave the check-in lady explicit instructions to have it checked specially for me.

  • I spent about two years working as a bartender at a big name French restaurant in NYC. We opened dozens of bottles during each shift, so I got a lot of practice over the years. In short, I’ve used all types of wine openers and without a doubt I would recommend the same black one. The teflon coating really helps and the two-level arm serves to pull the cork straight out (reducing the risk of broken corks). Of course, the rabbit corkscrew is much faster, but I only used it when I had two open more than 6 bottles at a time before an event.

  • Well, I can tell you what kind of a wine bottle opener you DON’T want. Don’t get the kind with the double prongs that are supposed to slip along either side of the cork in the neck of the bottle. I had one for a while and I always ended up pushing the cork into the bottle. I remember bringing wine to a party and having the hostess hand me one of those instruments of the devil. I explained my aversion to that type of opener and she gave me a pitying look and took my bottle. And ended up shoving the cork into the bottle with her damned opener.

  • Though the marriage didn’t last, all my bridesmaids still have their Swiss Army knives with, of course, a corkscrew.

  • Katie K> I use the classic table Screwpull. Mine came in a package with the foil cutter. It’s not big at all, weighs nothing so I think it’s fine to travel with, no need for the pocket sized one.

  • Don’t miss visiting the Musee du Tire-bouchon in Menerbes in the Luberon valley – a little gem of a museum on this important topic! My personal favorite is the original plastic screwpull.

  • Your Charles De Gaulle opener made me laugh. We used to call it Mark Spitz doing the breast stroke (hold it horizontally) corkscrew. I bought my husband a Rabbit last year. It’s still sitting in its fancy case and he still uses his old faithful corkscrew like your black one.

  • Whatever works! :-) Very interesting collection!

    I love my Brookstone “Connoisseur’s Wine Opener” (with Teflon coated worm!) – works like a charm. It even releases the cork with an easy squeeze of the handle. I shall forever be grateful to our son for this Christmas gift! ;-)

  • I’m always so impressed with the great topics you come up with. Love this one and love the photos (as usual). I have used the table Screwpull for at least 20 years and have had few problems. But I will go out and get the one you recommend anyway. There can never be too many corkscrews on hand!

  • I know it’s not exactly portable or cheap, but this is a great corkscrew and definitely a talking point at dinner parties:
    http://www.parker-international.co.uk/2405/Campagnolo-Corkscrew.html

  • Well, Stephanie & the French people may laugh at me but I have the electric kind. It works great. I was at a party this weekend & the hosts also had an electric one – handy for opening numerous bottles. Also easier for people of all abilities to use. I love that here in America we focus on the experience & company & not so much time on silly little things like being snobbish about wine openers.

  • I think the double-step in the metal leg that levers out the cork makes all the difference (yours has one), you can partially pull the cork with greater leverage then finish the job with the longer step. I got one at Marquez de Riscal in Spain that I love, and I love the logos and names on the corkscrews -I get memories with my wine.

    Have you seen (and heard) the electric Rabbit? Sounds like someone is taking a Cuisinart to the lovely wine you brought. Disconcerting…

  • I really like the wing style “Charles de Gaulle” openers. My mother has a rabbit one, and I hate it. It is so bulky and awkward (at least for someone like me with small hands.) When I’m in Paris this December I’ll have to pick up a couple of your favorite cheap corkscrews!

  • I wish I had started collecting antique French corkscrews years ago, but I missed the boat on that.

  • I bought mine at Trader Joe’s when I was working as a waitress, I think it was about 5 bucks. I just looked at it to see what it’s called – It’s a Pulltex Pulltap’s http://www.pulltexwt.com/en/home_en.html
    I agree that the double hinge makes a big difference, and apparently it’s got a teflon coated spiral.

    I also keep one I got at the 2€ store in my purse…for emergencies :)

  • Another informative and HILARIOUS article, David. Thanks so much. BTW: Amazon.com has your corkscrew for $8.99 – http://www.amazon.com/Oenophilia-900650-Coutale-Sommeliers-Corkscrew/dp/B000VB280S/ref=sr_1_1?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1311099427&sr=1-1

  • Thanks for this one David. I had a favorite cork screw that just broke. It was from Italy and I purchased it at a second hand store. It was the Charles De Gaulle variety. I am looking for a new one so this article was perfect timing.

  • That Charles deGaulle opener gives me such a feeling of nostaliga for some reason- I’m so used to seeing my parents use it

  • My grandfather handed me his, he’s from the the South of France, and I have never bothered to see what brand it is, and I haven’t used it because it has sentimental value, so in the interim, the mighty SAK had to do, but I’ve been quite happy with it, unless the bottle is a “twisty”.

  • I’d heard the rumour that the French are still using corks, but I thought it was just vicious gossip. We’re so used to caps on our New Zealand wines now that pulling the cork on an older vintage feels like sending a telegram.

  • I still use that same bottle opener from Nicolas that I bought in Paris for a picnic 6 years ago!

  • Nice to learn the name Charles de Gaulle – never heard it before.
    When my husband and I started living together back in college years ago, our first purchase was 6 wine glasses + this type of bottle opener – in Ikea:) It was not bad but got very blunt over the years. A couple of months ago, I asked my favourite wine-blogger for advice and he recommended one just like yours from Nicolas. Not sure if it is teflon coated, but works great.

  • I’ve had my bottle opener so long, I can’t remember where it came from. It’s similar to the black one except it has a small cutting disk in the end of the handle rather than a blade. It fits nicely in the hand and pocket. It still works well today after opening countless bottles. $200 sounds like all the gear and no idea.

  • I’m a wimp and use the Rabbit one – i can’t praise it enough. But a propos your post today — Andrew’s parents are big wine drinkers, so I found this mug for them that has a Swiss army knife that’s all cork screws – with a title – “The French Army Knife”. I thought it was cute.

  • Thanks, David, loved the article…

    We have several of the 2 stage corkscrew – just like yours, everywhere we go – at home, when traveling, in our to-go wine bag etc. We cannot imagine a situation when we have a nice bottle of wine and no means to open it, so we are always prepared.

    On the same note, though, before our trip to see our friends and family in Australia I considered some nice corkscrews as gifts to our wine loving friends & family. It’s a good thing that we have decided to get something else as virtually all the bottles there (and in New Zealand, as somebody mentioned) are screw top.. That would have been funny – giving them a totally redundant nice looking gift…

  • Lovely, as usual + informative!

    This reminds of the time we forgot the wine opener on a wine buying holiday in France – yikes! As neither of us knew the French word for “wine bottle opener”, cue lots of very bad miming. We heard Marcel Marceau turn in his grave.

    After half dozens attempts/mime performances, giving mirth and amusement to the denizens of south west France, we thought we struck lucky when we happened upon a big box of corkscrew wine openers and started doing the Snoopy dance.

    Alas, Non!

    THEY WERE LEFT-HANDED corkscrew wine openers.

  • I remember my Grandfather, who was a Captain in the British Navy, openning a wine bottle at a picnic by wrapping the bottom in a towel and then holding it horizontally, hitting the base against the picnic table until the cork moved out far enough to grab it and pull it out. It took about 45 minutes. He wasn’t deterred by the fact that someone left the corkscrew at home.

  • re: Tim – Double prong wine opener – also called the “Ah-So”

    It’s really a great wine opener when needed and used correctly: as for an older bottle with a cork that is dry and sticking to the inside of the neck of the bottle, or bottles that have brittle corks (all you get out with normal corkscrew is the top half of the cork or a hole in the center of the cork and lots of cork bits.) The “Ah-So” is perfect for these conditions, but is still pretty good for most corks.

    Also – don’t buy any corkscrew with a solid drill-like screw (called an auger.) On any challenging cork, all you’ll do is drill a nice hole in the cener of the cork. If you’ve got one – toss it. Get a corkscrew with a curly “pigtail” type screw. This is most of them these days. Check David’s first picture above – they’re all the “pigtail” type.

  • @ Dianne — We used to do the Mark Spitz breaststroke imitation with our “Charles de Gaulle” opener. If you make the same motion going vertically, it’s the ever popular “Spiderman” imitation. finally, if you spin the wings around the center very fast, it’s the Dorothy Hamill camel (figure skating spin), Large consumption of wine generally required.

  • On our first anniversary trip to Napa and Sonoma, we came across two very nifty cork “screws”. One was a long needle with a CO2 cartridge to “pop” the cork out. The second was a very simple one with two prongs that you wiggled on either side of the cork then twisted it out. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bottle_opener#Twin_prong_cork_puller) It was interesting to see two such easy to use tools on opposite sides of the technological spectrum! We got one of the twin pronged variety and have used it for over ten years with great satisfaction. No more broken corks in the cork collection!

  • The subject “tire-bouchon” can evoke too many comments from collectors like myself. See http://www.corkscrewnet.com/CCCC.for more corkscrew information than you ever wanted to know except “the perfect corkscrew” has been the subject of tens of thousands of designs and patients in every major country since the late 1700’s.
    See:
    http://www.bullworks.net/ as just one example.
    I am the owner of 598 individual corkscrews and yes, I do have a few empty bottles in my trash each Monday.
    In the end I believe that the stupid Rabbit style is the easiest and the Waiter’s Friend the most effective and portable device.
    The next time you are in Atlanta, ring me up and we will test a few tire-bouchon for effectiveness.

  • I bought the exact same wooden “le poisson ” a few years back Chicago. It’s not worth the $30 it paid for it’s beauty. It slipped two or three times off a bottle, and it now lives at the back of the kitchen drawer. I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one that found it useless.

    Today I use the same white plastic and stainless steel wine opener that I bought when I started bar tending twenty years ago.

  • Does anyone have the Monopole corkscrew? You can pick them up at flea markets in Switzerland. We have one from the 50’s and it still works. No hinges or wings needed.

  • There is a tire-bouchon museum in Menebres, Provence. It is really funny http://www.domaine-citadelle.com/

  • …every wine drinker should know how to open a bottle of wine with a tree:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cq7DBjCzSuE

  • I bought a Zig-Zag in Paris about 30 years ago and it is still going strong.

  • Those opener are cool. I got to buy one because it’ll be very useful especially on my birthday. Lots of drinks will be prepared. I gonna need three so there’d be no borrowing.