PULLING POWER

TRIED & TESTED: Fed up with crumbling corks and crummy corkscrews? Our panel goes in search of effortless withdrawal
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The Independent Culture
You spend an eternity in the wine department scouring the shelves for the perfect grape, colour and vintage. You rush home, thinking how well your wine will complement your dinner and what a joy it will be for your guests to consume. And then the nightmare begins: the cork breaks into pieces upon contact with the corkscrew; trying to remove it from the bottle, you all but dislocate your shoulder with the effort; and, sweating with anxiety, you spill a dose of the best Burgundy over your party clothes. Sound familiar? It was time, we decided, to go in search of the infallible corkscrew.

THE PANEL

Our panel consisted of Independent on Sunday Review wine critic, Richard Ehrlich; serious wine-lover Nick Taylor; ex-barmaid Fiona Sturges; and myself, top corkscrew-fumbler.

THE TEST

Panellists were asked to judge each corkscrew on its aesthetic appeal, ease of use, cost and durability. In addition, we looked at any extra features the corkscrew might have, such as a bottle-opener and foil-cutter.

****TEFAL CORKSCREW DELUXE

pounds 6.49

This modern and curvaceous model is very different from the traditional corkscrew design. With its rounded edges and clear shaft, you can watch the whole intricate removal process as it happens. There is also a bottle-opener and a foil-cutter. Usually, these cutters are small knives, but the Tefal has, as Richard observed, "a blade on a wheel on the side covered with plastic. It is a bit hard to manoeuvre but does the job well." Fiona reckoned it was useful and safe: "I'm usually worried about slicing off my fingers with the cutter, but with this type that can't happen."

Tefal claim that their corkscrew is very simple to operate. In practice, however, no one on the panel found it all that easy. But after reading the directions and studying the implement closely we soon caught on, although Nick wondered if he would be able to use the Tefal to open more than the first bottle of wine in an evening. "If I was a bit worse for wear, I think I'd get a bit confused - it looks deceptively simple but it's totally different from corkscrews that I'm familiar with."

We all agreed that the Tefal required quite a bit of pressure to continue turning once the screw was in the cork. "It squeaks and rattles horribly," complained Fiona, and Richard thought the screw itself was flimsy.

Despite these complaints, our panel deemed the Tefal Deluxe to be a sensible corkscrew, particularly for beginners as it's designed to do the job for you, no experience required. They also liked the low price tag.

**ALESSI ANNA-G

pounds 38

A real designer objet and definitely the most glamorous of the lot, Alessi's Anna-G turns the traditional corkscrew into a whimsical conversation piece. While it is based on the most conventional of designs, the knob at the top is turned into a woman's head, the handles on the sides are her arms, and the shaft and base her skirt.

All this creativity presented our panel with some problems: the head is a bit too wide, the arms too long and the shaft top-heavy, cumbersome and unstable. "It rocks on the top of the bottle," noted Richard, "and it shouldn't. It should be rock solid." Fiona found it slightly uncomfortable to use, "It's too much for me to try and wrap my small hands around the skirt and the bottle." With no foil cutter, it was also a struggle to take the cork off the screw. But on the whole, once we got going, the Alessi worked fairly smoothly.

This was one of the most intricate examples the panel had ever seen, and scored a point or two for being able to stand up on its own, as well as for its flamboyance - "It should go on top of a Christmas tree," observed Fiona. But in spite of its good looks, Anna-G was deemed over-priced. As Nick said: "It's okay, it's attractive, but it has no particular advantage, and given that it costs pounds 38, it should do a better job."

SCREWPULL BISTRO

pounds 19.95

The Bistro is a sleek, updated version of an older Screwpull, one that Richard proclaimed his favourite. "I've been using a similar Screwpull model for years, and this model seems like a design step backwards." We all agreed that the original would have been best left unchanged. This particular design was flimsy, confusing and did not even survive our testing; the directions claim that the handle can be turned with one finger placed lightly on its very edge, but we managed to bend the screw beyond use after just four openings.

The Bistro's best features are its bottle-opener and foil-cutter which was the best of all the corkscrews we sampled. But a handy cutter wasn't enough to redeem it. Taking into account its price and the frustration it caused, we all agreed with Fiona. "You'd be better leaving this one in the store," she said.

*BACCHANAL LAZY FISH

pounds 18.99

We had all heard wonderful things about the Lazy Fish, voted "Gift of the Year" by the Giftwares Association in 1994. Nick even has a Lazy Fish of his own and proclaimed it to be the greatest. Physically, it is impressive - sturdy and substantial and quite reminiscent of a real fish, albeit a hard metal one. The "mouth" descends over the top of the bottle, the "tail" is used to turn the screw and the "fins" expand as you pull the cork out. Bacchanal's promise that the Lazy Fish is "three times easier to use than a traditional corkscrew" was refuted by each panellist, with the exception of Nick. It was difficult to align the screw in the centre of the cork because the Lazy Fish is so heavy. It was also hard to get started - we had to turn the bottle to get the screw inside. After that the cork pulled out quite smoothly, although Fiona and I had to hold the bottle between our feet.

Aesthetic appeal aside, the Lazy Fish could be better. "Corkscrews are tools, they need to work well," said Richard. Fiona had other ideas for it: "I might put it on my mantlepiece as a bit of sculpture, but I would never use it to open a bottle of wine."

***BACCHANAL GENIUS

pounds 4.49

This type of corkscrew, the preferred choice of restaurant workers, is sometimes called the "waiter's friend". Flat and pocket-sized, it was the most portable of those we tested, making it ideal for travelling or taking on picnics. And it has very good foil-cutting blade which folds away inside its handle.

Any problems that arise with the Genius are to do with inexperience, rather than design flaws. "It's not an ideal model for beginners," admitted Richard. Where other models are designed to guide the screw down into the cork, this one isn't; in fact it's entirely up to you to get the angle of insertion just right. And even then it's quite difficult to pull the cork out.

But for those with strong wrists and fine-tuned opening skills, this is an excellent choice. "It's a classic design," said Richard, "and deserves a five, at least for people who know how to use it."

*****SCREWPULL ELITE

pounds 18.99

Easy on the eye, easy to use and well-made, the Elite was the panel's undisputed favourite. Richard observed, "you need no gravity, no downward pressure, no force of weight like you do with others. It really is a great corkscrew." It was the only corkscrew that the whole panel could use sitting down. Nick described it as "very simple and straightforward to use". In fact, it's just the job for beginners and experts alike. And Fiona commented on its "simple but aesthetically pleasing design".

The Elite's drawback is its foil-cutter; its less than razor-sharp blade meant it took a few tries to cut off the top. And Nick felt it was "a bit pricey" at pounds 18.99. But in the end we all agreed that for its sturdiness, proficiency and simplicity that was a price worth paying.

STOCKISTS

Screwpull's Bistro and Elite are available from Selfridges, London; for details of other stockists call 0171 255 2424. The Tefal Deluxe is available at Selfridges and Oddbins. For stockists of the Lazy Fish and the Genius contact Bacchanal on 0121 520 4727. Alessi's Anna-G is available from Oggetti, 143 Fulham Road, London SW3 and Heal's, London W1, and other Alessi stockists. !

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