Tried & Tested: Pulling power: A satisfying plop, or a shortcut to a hernia? our panel tries out corkscrews

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The Independent Culture
Since corks were first put into wine bottles, there have been countless attempts to find ingenious solutions to the problem of getting them out again. Some rely on advanced engineering principles, others on brute force. We've brought together a collection of traditional and innovative corkscrews and a panel of wine enthusiasts to try them out. If you're buying a corkscrew for yourself or as a present this Christmas, our test will demonstrate which one has the most pull.

THE PANEL

Peregrine Armstrong Jones, party organiser, Bentley's Entertainments; Kathryn McWhirter, wine writer, the Independent on Sunday; Caspar Bowes, wine merchant; Chris Thompson, restaurant manager, RSJ, London; Marion Francis, art editor, Macmillan Magazines.

THE TEST

Testers marked each corkscrew out of 10 on how easy it was to understand, how comfortable was the grip, the effort required to pull out the cork, attractiveness of design and value for money. Scores were converted into star ratings.

**LIBERTY TOURNE BOUCHON

pounds 13.50

Divided opinions on this corkscrew

without a screw

Testers thought this was a novel design, although in fact gadgets like these have been around for 200 years. It doesn't have a screw. Instead, two blades fit down the side of the cork and the neck of the bottle and you pull the handle to get the cork out.

This was rated as one of the easiest mechanisms to understand and as the corkscrew with the most attractive design (it comes in a wooden case). But it didn't have a particularly comfortable grip and quite a bit of effort was needed to get the cork out. Kathryn McWhirter said: 'On two bottles, the corks slipped inside the bottle and I had to resort to other corkscrews. Another cork was so tight that I couldn't get it out at all with this.' But Peregrine Armstrong Jones and Caspar Bowes proclaimed it one of their favourites: 'Frail corks are firmly gripped from the outside. I like this a lot,' said Caspar.

*LIBERTY WAITER'S FRIEND

pounds 9.95

Simple to use but uncomfortable

to hold; pricey

This gadget has a penknife and a bottle opener as well as a corkscrew and would fit easily in your pocket. The testers found it one of the simplest to understand, but the least comfortable to grip. 'Some danger of lacerating one's hand,' said Caspar Bowes. They also thought that, for a basic product, it was very expensive. 'Value for money is zilch because you can pick one up for 50p on a market stall,' said Colin Thompson. 'It pulls the cork nearly out and you have to give a tug at the end. So you get a satisfying pop and flourish,' said Kathryn McWhirter. You won't get many style points for having this in your kitchen - it was rated as having the least attractive design.

*LAZYFISH

pounds 14.50

Gimmicky; fails to live up to its promise

The manufacturers claim that this device, based on a design from the 1920s, is three times easier to use than a conventional corkscrew. Our testers found this was far from true. It didn't score very well on how easy the mechanism was to understand, comfort of grip or the amount of effort needed. Marion Francis found it 'probably the most unsuccessful of them all'. Although the Lazyfish's unusual design might seem its main asset, not all our testers found it attractive. Chris Thompson thought it looked lethal: 'Given a chance, this fish would nip your fingers with piranha-like skill. Approach with caution]' Kathryn McWhirter said she had blood blisters for days after trying it out. 'I wasn't strong enough, even with the help of the zig-zag leverage, to pull the cork out from table height. I had to put the bottle between my knees. Not very elegant.'

*AUTOPULL

(with foil-cutter) pounds 13.20

Not too much effort required but

otherwise unpopular

Did the Swiss manufacturers do any market research with British consumers for this corkscrew design? It reminded some testers either of a Dalek or of something you might find in a sex shop. It didn't rate highly on any of the criteria and was thought to be unattractive and poor value for money. 'Made for big masculine hands,' said Kathryn McWhirter. 'The foil-cutter is hopeless. Screwing the cork out is fairly easy.' Marion Francis said: 'It was difficult to work out, but once you get going the cork pulls out easily enough. But it's not very attractive.'

***LE CREUSET SCREWPULL

(in gift set with foil-cutter) pounds 14.95

Simple to understand, easy to use

Testers found this corkscrew, designed by an American tycoon on the same principle as an oil-drill, one of the easiest to understand. They thought it needed more effort to pull the cork out than its big brother, the lever screwpull (see below) - but then it is an eighth of the price] 'Rather smart, good foil-cutter, good screw. Kind on corks as it exerts good steady pressure,' said Caspar Bowes. Marion Francis took exception, however, to its plastic look, which she described as 'tacky'.

***LE CREUSET LEVER

SCREWPULL

pounds 99.95

Top choice - if money is no object

A further development of the screwpull principle, this very expensive corkscrew was voted the overall favourite - but then our testers didn't have to pay for it. 'I'd trust this machine with a treasured bottle of claret,' said Peregrine Armstrong Jones. Caspar Bowes called it 'a masterpiece of design'. Testers found it easy to understand, very comfortable to grip and getting the cork out virtually effortless. 'Expensive,' said Kathryn McWhirter, 'but worth it for people in the wine trade or who, like me, open six or seven wines over a typical evening meal.' So a must for the professional (rich) wine drinker.

*CONRAN SHOP T-BAR

pounds 3.25

Not for wimps

There are no complex instructions with this. It relies purely on muscle-power. 'The best things are the simplest,' said enthusiast Caspar Bowes. But some testers found it a struggle. 'Should carry a Government Health Warning. Requires brute force and lots of strength,' commented Peregrine Armstrong Jones. 'It has a good open screw and is easy to grip,' said Kathryn McWhirter. 'So what if you can't get the cork out?'

Stockists (where not already stated)

Le Creuset Screwpulls are available from the Elizabeth David Cookshop in Covent Garden, London; Harrods, London; good department stores and wine shops; or ring Le Creuset for stockists on 0800 373792. Autopull is available from Debenham's and Thresher's; for other stockists ring 0603 488019. Lazyfish is available from John Lewis and House of Fraser stores; Fortnum & Mason; Selfridges; or by mail order on 021-520 4727.

(Photograph omitted)

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