The French word for corkscrew is a tire-bouchon which literally translates to “pull the cork.” This is exactly what a corkscrew does. A good corkscrew uses the help of physics, as one needs a little bit of leverage to easily (and gracefully) do the job.
My Favorite: Vintorio Professional Waiters Corkscrew (See at Amazon)
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 a wall or 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 of 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. It’s also important that the design be sleek and easily slipped into an apron, pants, or vest pocket.
- 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, and some servers prefer them to the double-hinged model.
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.
The single-hinged model works very well for servers and sommeliers (like me) who have large, strong hands. And, truth be told, there is something very elegant about a server removing the cork to a good bottle in a single, fluid motion. The double-hinged models are great for servers who lack the hand / lower arm strength to use the single-hinged model, but I find that resetting the hinge for the second stage of cork-removal to be a little ungraceful.
Both the single and double-hinged models are simple and efficient in 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. Stainless steel is durable and easy to clean.
Add-ons and extras
Most of the 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. 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.
Top Two Single-Hinged Models
Of all of the single-hinged models, two models stand out: The Pedrini Wine and Bar Soft Grip Waiters Corkscrew and the New Star Foodservice 48247 Stainless Steel Folding Waiters Wine Bottle Corkscrew. Both models are a bargain so price isn’t a big issue here.
New Star’s Foodservice 48247 Stainless Steel Folding Waiters Wine Bottle Corkscrew Beer Cap Opener with Curved Blade
This all-in-one tool does it all so far as beverage service is concerned. For opening a bottle of wine, it has a folding knife to easily remove the foil from the mouth of the bottle and a folding corkscrew and single-hinge lever to extract the cork. The lever has a notch near the hinge that serves as a bottle opener. The entire tool is made of stainless steel and is dishwasher safe.
Although this tool is nothing to look at (it has that “designed by committee” look), this is a serious, no-nonsense tool. It’s only drawback is that the grip is not ergonomic.
Pedrini’s Wine and Bar Soft Grip Waiters Corkscrew
This is a more elegant version of the New Star model discussed above. This model has a soft grip, non-slip handle, a folding foil cutter, and a bottle opener. While this model does not boast solid stainless steel construction, it is dishwasher safe and durable.
This sleek tool has a better handle than the New Star model.
And the winner is!
Although both models function in exactly the same way, the Pedrini model has a comfortable, non-slip handle. It also has a more streamlined look. The New Star model is fine for a server who only opens the occasional bottle, but the handle isn’t comfortable enough to use it several times an hour.
Top Two Double-Hinged Models
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!
Whether you prefer a single or a double-hinged corkscrew, there are plenty of good options that won’t break the bank, and whichever your preference, you won’t have to spend more than $10 to buy a tool that could help you earn hundreds!
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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.
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