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How to Open a Wine Bottle without a Corkscrew

By Debra Meiburg MW

by Debra Meiburg MW

Banging, pumping, pulling or pounding: whichever you method you prefer, it is not easy to open a wine bottle without a corkscrew. Stories abound about folks desperately wresting this little piece of tree cork out of the neck of a bottle in ingenious ways. If your usual tipple requires only fingers and an opposal thumb to open, you are not likely to have a corkscrew on hand when it comes time to pull the cork on Chateau Lafite. You might like some alternative methods.

The most obvious scheme is to mimic a corkscrew. Providing you’ve hung your own artwork, you’ll have everything required: screwdriver, large screw and pliers. Thread the screw into the cork and, holding the bottle between your feet, tug on the screw with pliers. Vise grips make this task easier. Alternatively, use the nail-removing end of a hammer to tug on the screw, pulling the cork part way of the bottle. Pliers can then grip the exposed cork. Or screw a large storage hook – the type you would use to suspend a bicycle on the wall – into the cork and gripping the curved end of the hook, pull. Screws can be threaded horizontally through a piece of wood, steel or even another cork to improvise a handle grip.

A most ingenious technique is the nails-à-trois approach. Gently pound two nails (with heads) into the cork. Slip the loose third nail in between the other two, perpendicular to the bottle. Twist and pull outward.

Keen sportsman will have an array of play toys to use, such as a manual tire pump or ball inflation pump. Pierce the cork with the needle and work the pump as though inflating a tire. The air pressure under the cork will force it out of the bottle. A syringe has also been known to do the trick.

If needles make you squeamish, then you are a pounder and should use the following method. Wrap a small towel or your jacket around the base of the bottle. Find a firm, flat vertical surface, such as the jamb of an open doorway, tree trunk or a solid wall. Pound the padded base of the bottle against the flat surface repeatedly, striking evenly. The trick is to keep the bottle at a 90º angle all times. The pounding will slowly ease the cork out of the bottle, but keep in mind the following caveats. The wine will be somewhat fizzy; there will be spills on the floor; you might be liable for wall damage and you will perspire heavily. Perhaps this technique is more appropriate for opening wallets than wine bottles: there is always someone in the room willing to bet it cannot be done.

The issue isn’t so much a matter of getting the cork out of the bottle, but extricating the liquid. The solution? Simply push the cork into the bottle. Almost any implement will do; success stories include a toothbrush, house key or screwdriver. For the more technically minded, insert a butter knife into the cork. Use a hammer to tap the knife, gently pushing the cork partway into the bottle. Then use a chopstick to push the cork the rest of the way. “I found it the most sofisticated [sic] method I know.” advises a reader. Whichever instrument used, be careful of uncontrolled spurting at the cork’s final plunge and remember that you cannot reseal what you have undone. Also, avoid the Italians as they have very long corks.

Comments 6 Comments for “How to Open a Wine Bottle without a Corkscrew”
  1. Ian Ronald on 12.17.09 at 01:49

    Speaking from rather painful experience, when faced with the emergency situation requiring cork removal without corkscrew, do not, under any circumstances, look down over the top of the cork when pushing it into the bottle with a knife handle.
    If the squirt of erupting wine does not get you, the knife (fortunately blunt in my case) will.

  2. Tim on 12.17.09 at 10:55

    This article is very interesting. I will sometime try some of these tricks.


  3. Chris Robinson on 02.24.10 at 11:05

    Living in Asia means the ultimate cork remover is always at hand – a chopstick. Okay this doesn’t remove the cork, but it sure helps to push the cork into the bottle when really anxious to get to that wine. A word of caution, place a tea towel over the neck as you gently ease the cork down into the bottle, because the wine will gush out if this is rushed. And use the blunter end of the chopstick for better push power. Leave the chopstick in the bottle because the first few glasses need a gentle push back on the cork to allow the wine to flow. Obviously don’t use a chopstick that has just seen consumption of fried rice or noodles!

  4. Debra Meiburg on 03.01.10 at 00:37

    Thanks Ian — great safety tip. And Chris, you DO sound as though you are speaking from experience! Lots of great pointers (so to speak).

  5. Dan Porter on 01.26.12 at 07:59

    I once used an extra large long shanked fish hook. Bend the fish hook as straight as you can. Press the hook through the cork, it helps to go all the way through the cork. Devise a way to get a good purchase, pull with a slow constant pressure.

  6. Debra Meiburg MW on 02.01.12 at 12:53

    Love this idea! Thanks Dan!

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