Corkscrews are no match for plastic thumbs

'A man shouldn't need pliers to open a wine bottle, unless he's beating up and down the Bay of Biscay'
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Recently I brought you the harrowing tale of how I was forced by bullying officials at Heathrow airport to hand over my pocket corkscrew, presumably in case I should go berserk in the plane and run up and down the aisle attempting to open bottles of wine, and how my pleas to be allowed to keep this family heirloom, which I had bought a month earlier, fell on stony ears and deaf hearts. I also told you that it was now my life's mission to invent and produce a plastic corkscrew which would get through any airport machine in the world undetected.

Response from the readers was swift. In the post a day or two later there arrived a plastic corkscrew, sent by a think tank in St Albans, which seemed to prove either that people in St Albans can invent and produce a plastic corkscrew quicker than I can, or that you can easily buy them in St Albans, which means that they have been on the market all the time and I never noticed.

I also got an email from Mr Dalglish of Bristol who, after telling me that he once got a plastic corkscrew from a Christmas cracker, goes one further and recommends a method of opening a wine bottle without a corkscrew. I thought, at that point, that he was going to recommend the method I was once taught, ie that if you bang the bottom of a bottle repeatedly, the pressure built up inside gradually forces the cork out at the top. I have tried this and it breaks lots of bones in your hand, but doesn't work.

Mr Dalglish's method, I am glad to say, is quite different, and much more exciting.

"It was shown me by a delightful young Polish man on a yacht in the middle of the Bay of Biscay, while we were beating for days toward the Gironde from Corunna (where I recommend the grave of Sir John Moore; it's rather charming). Take the bottle in your left hand and any fairly heavy metal object in your right (a fair-sized spanner, the back of a carving knife, etc). Ideally the object should have a squarish corner.

"Run the object sharply up the curved neck of the bottle, as if you were whittling, until it smacks into the glass collar at the top. Repeat 20 to 30 times, rotating the bottle all the while.

"Now grasp the top two inches of the bottle with a tea towel or T-shirt, and twist firmly. The collar will break off neatly AND BRING THE CORK WITH IT. You can then pour the contents of the bottle into the toothmugs of your admiring journalist colleagues. Hint: Do not apply bottle directly to mouth hereafter. Oh, yes, and take the plastic or foil cap off the bottle before you start."

Mr Dalglish doesn't say whether he has tried this, but it sounds pretty convincing. However, since then I have encountered another problem with corks and once again I am turning to my readership for help. The trouble is that the Australian and New Zealand wine world is increasingly falling in love with plastic corks and, as I like wine from Down Under, I find myself more and more often grappling with these horrible little things, which come out of the bottle looking like a prosthetic body part or the relic of an operation which has gone wrong.

When, that is, it comes out of the bottle. Mounted on my kitchen shelf I have one of those big industrial cork-pulling devices which look more like a pub beer-pulling handle than anything. You stuff the bottle up its funnel, hold it tight and heave the handle down, then up again, and hey presto! the cork is out. Unless it's plastic. If it's plastic, the spiral blade goes in cleanly and comes out cleanly, and leaves the cork where it was.

So you go for the ultra-reliable back-up Screwpull, and use that to get the cork out, which it does all right, but then you can't get the cork off the Screwpull. Whereas a normal, living organic cork can be held firmly in one hand while you unscrew the corkscrew from it with the other, these damned plastic corks which look so much like fake thumbs are also greasy and slippy and you can't grip them with the unaided hand.

So anyone looking through my kitchen window of a recent winter evening and seeing me apparently bent over in fulminating agony may wish to know that what I was doing was grasping a cork on a corkscrew with a pair of pliers and trying to twist it off. And my message to the Kiwi and Aussie wine industry is this: a man shouldn't need a pair of pliers to help to open a bottle of wine, or, at least, only if he's beating up and down the Bay of Biscay in a boat full of wine with no corkscrew.