The Best Way to Open a Bottle of Wine

January 11, 2022

If you’ve ever sliced your finger on the foil of a bottle of wine, this one’s for you. It’s also for those of you who hack at the foil so much it looks like someone tried using a machete to open the wine.

The very first (and last) restaurant job I landed in New York City was for a brand new, upscale Italian fine-dining restaurant parked across the street from City Center.

I mostly remember how horrible I was at that job—I wasn’t even a server. I was a busser, hoping to graduate to a server position. But I was too talkative with guests, and anyways, it wasn’t meant to be. However, I’ll never forget one wine training seminar that I was permitted to join (I guess there were no more napkins to fold that day).

The presenter’s name is lost to the history of my younger and more vulnerable days in Manhattan, but the one cool thing he taught us that day was unforgettable. When he demonstrated “the right way” to open a bottle of wine, he offered a sleight-of-hand trick for ensuring a clean foil cut—every time—without cutting your finger.

If you can master this, not only will you avoid slicing your finger (forever), you also won’t leave your guests wondering if bits of foil from your hacking have ended up in their wine. Alternatively, you could only ever buy bottles that don’t have foil. But that’s extremely limiting.

Happiness is coming for you, your hands, and for all by following this simple guide.

wine corks on a table

Knowing full well that there are an array of corkscrews out there, I’m focusing on the classic style pictured above. There are several different iterations of this classic corkscrew, but the most important thing to look for is the quality of the blade.

The serrated blades (pictured left on the blue and gold corkscrews) are just awful for attempting to create the kind of clean slice you need to employ this sleight-of-hand trick. So, if you’ve got ones that look like that, get rid of them. Look for corkscrews with a sleek, tight, longer, curvy blade, like those pictured on the right. My favorite is the Laguiole, and that one came from a little shop on the Île Saint-Louis in Paris, France. (It brings me back there every time I handle it!)

bottle in hand on table

Holding the bottle in whichever hand is comfy (I happen to prefer holding the bottle in my left and opening with my right hand), you’ll want to open that foil cutter blade and slip it under the lip of the bottle. I often witness people trying to slice the foil around the top of the lip, which gives you less than a quarter-inch of leeway, and is typically disastrous. So, anchor the tip of the blade under that bottom lip, and with a slight amount of pressure, rotate the bottle while slicing the foil under the lip. You’ll obtain a nice complete, clean slice with 2-3 rotations.

foil cut on wine bottle

See? Anchor the tip of the blade like this and while holding the bottle (ideally around the neck with your other hand), rotate until you’ve come 360 degrees.

wine foil twist off

Now, here’s the rub. This is the trick. If you’d done the slicing correctly, you could actually grasp the foil with the palm of your hand, and it should come right off with a simple twist—it will look like the cap of a mushroom. But that’s not the proper way to remove that cap! Come on now! So, you take the tip of your blade, and you make a slice from the bottom of the lip, toward the cork. And then, you slip the tip of your blade into the little pocket you’ve created and gently… lift.

cork on wine bottle

It will look like this (and will come off entirely if you’ve adequately sliced all the way around the neck of the bottle.) I intentionally left a tiny piece so you could see the progress here. But ideally, it will sip right off and look like the “foil cap” below.

wine key on table

The added bonus of removing more of the foil is that you don’t have to worry about bits of foil getting into your glass—or whatever dirt or debris comes with the upper portion of the foil.

wine key in cork

With a clean, stunning-looking bottle top—devoid of machete marks and wrinkled foil—you’re ready to plunge in the cork. Get it down there. Don’t be shy. Don’t go so deep you lose the ability to anchor the metal lever, or hinge joint (the Laguiole pictured here doesn’t have a hinge), and don’t go too shallow that you end up breaking the cork when trying to pull it out.

opened wine bottle on table

Now, pour and repeat with the next bottle! Good luck, and here’s to your very last foil cut for life! L'chaim!

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