Uncorking a bottle of wine may seem to be as straightforward as tasks get, but enthusiasts of every stripe have a knack for complicating things. A bewildering array of arcane-looking doodads have been marketed to wine lovers for the purpose of getting that delicious wine out of the bottle.
What you want to know is, which one is the best?
Gizmos and gadgets
When it comes to opening a wine bottle, the market has no shortage of gadgets. Some use a complicated system of torque-transferring levers, some are electric or motorized. Others vacuum power, and you can even find models that have to be installed on the edge of a table!
There’s nothing wrong with any of these gadgets—if your goal is simply to pour wine for yourself or your dinner party guests. Your average server, however, can’t be bothered with them. When you’re dashing from one table to another, popping bottle after bottle all evening long, you develop an appreciation, even affection, for wine-opening tools that are tried-and-true.
Elegance in simplicity
Ask any server, sommelier, bartender, or anyone else who regularly opens wine for a living, and they’ll tell you that the classic waiter’s-style wine key is the gold standard for opening wine. A wine key is one of the most valuable tools of their trade.
As long as people still go to restaurants and order wine there, you’ll see some variation of this tool in the server’s hand. It’s simple, compact, portable, and can be put to efficient use with only a bit of practice. Plus, there’s something about the smooth, confident wrist motion associated with the use a wine key that adds a touch of elegance to a customer’s restaurant experience.
What to look for
So, which wine key works best? Let’s consider what a server needs out of a key.
- Ease of use. Complication has no place in a server’s life.
- Comfortable and ergonomic design. This thing is going to be used a lot. It’s essential that it go easy on the hands, wrist, and fingers.
- The worm. With the hundreds of different bottles of wine one restaurant may stock, you’re going to need a worm that can effectively screw into a wide range of cork sizes and materials. You also want the worm to be wide enough to get a good grip on the cork without being so wide as to risk shredding it. Paying customers hate seeing floating bits of cork in their wine!
- Durability. This thing needs to be tough. Time wasted on a broken tool translates to lost tips.
- Price. Given the restaurant industry’s famously unpredictable profit margins, most restaurateurs don’t want to overspend on something so essential to their day-to-day operations, and most restaurant employees don’t want to splurge on an unnecessarily expensive item for themselves.
The current market for wine keys is dominated by Pulltap’s Double-Hinged Wine Key. Single-hinged models are also available, but I see little point in them from a server’s point of view.
Some dismiss the double-hinged model as being amateurish. This is because the second hinge is supposedly a “backup” for people too unpracticed to generate enough torque to extract the cork on the first go. Servers, meanwhile, are more concerned about avoiding carpal tunnel syndrome.
It’s such a simple, elegant design that you’ll inevitably find a series of very similar models, each with nearly identical functionality. The search for the “perfect” wine key is, to some extent, a nitpicky endeavor. It’s largely a matter of personal preference.
You can, however, assign an immediate advantage to those keys which feature an all-stainless steel construction. Skip the ones that incorporate wooden or plastic parts. Not only is stainless steel durable, but it’s also easy to clean.
Add-ons and extras
Most of the double-hinged models you’ll encounter come with additional tools built into them. Namely, a small fold-out blade for cutting the foil off the top of a bottle, and a bottle opener for beer and other capped beverages on the outside hinge. The sheer number of keys that do include these extras make it easy to eliminate any that don’t.
In the world of wine keys, anything which increases the number of tools a server has to carry is going to lose out!
There’s a bevy of higher-end variations on this design that introduce features like handmade construction, sleek aesthetics, elegant chroming, and customizable grips. An individual wine lover looking to class up his or her tasting parties might like one of these for the “Wow!” factor.
For a server, extra fanciness just adds expense. Few can afford the several hundred bucks a Chateau Languiole or Code38 Elite Series will cost.
Taking all this into consideration, two models stand out: the Pulltap’s Two-Step Corkscrew and Sommelier Knife, and True Fabrications’ Truetap Double-Hinged Waiter’s Corkscrew. Most servers report practically no difference between the two keys in terms of construction, functionality, durability, or any of the other factors we mentioned. Both feature double hinges, Teflon-coated five-twist worms, all-stainless steel construction, a full complement of add-on tools, and are reasonably priced to boot.
Pulltap’s Double Lever Two-Step Corkscrew and Sommelier Knife
This is a double-hinge style key, which features one hinge near the middle of the tool that is utilized first. The second hinge at the end provides leverage for getting the cork all the way out. This design allows for the easy extraction of corks, without breakage, with a minimal amount of energy expenditure.
Though smaller than the TrueTap, the compact body also houses an integrated bottle opener and serrated foil cutter.
The double-hinged design and non-stick worm make uncorking wine bottles easy and comfortable. It’s easy to see why this is a favorite.
True’s Truetap Stainless Steel Double-Hinged Waiter’s Corkscrew
Like the Pulltap, the Truetap is also a double-hinged corkscrew. Made of durable stainless steel, the compact design is easy to carry in your pocket. The ergonomic contoured steel handle is comfortable to hold.
In terms of extras, this model features a bend-resistant single-piece non-stick corkscrew with low friction coating. It also comes with a fold-out foil knife with serrated blade, and the lip-arm doubles as bottle opener.
There is one important difference, when we compare this model to the Pulltap, though. The Pulltap’s is manufactured in Spain. As of the time of this writing, the extra shipping costs mean this model is more expensive in the U.S.
I recommend the Truetap over the Pulltap’s as the best wine key for servers. It almost pains me to do so, given that they’re such comparable products. (I do believe I mentioned this was going to be a nitpicky contest.)
The lower price of the Truetap gives it the slight edge it needs to win the endorsement. Pick one up and get uncorking!
For more fun wine-related reviews, see my post the best corkscrew for old corks. If you brew your own wine, check out my recommendations on the best wine corks for homemade wine.