How do you open a bottle of wine that has a wax capsule?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

How do you open a bottle of wine that has a wax capsule?

—Bob, Meridian, Miss.

Dear Bob,

When opening a bottle of wine that's topped with a wax capsule, there’s usually no need to remove the wax first. Using a waiter’s corkscrew, I place the worm (that’s the metal spiral that screws into the cork) at the center of the wax capsule and push the point in as if the wax weren’t there, twisting it down into the cork. The cork usually makes a clean break with the wax as I pull it out, and that’s all there is to it.

But there are some scenarios where plowing through the wax capsule isn’t advised. Older wines (more than 10 years) may have delicate, brittle corks that can crumble under the pressure of being pulled up through a wax capsule. And if the wax is too thick, I might not be able to properly set the ledge of the corkscrew on the lip of the bottle, which is necessary to get the leverage required to pull out the cork. In both of these scenarios, I cut through the wax like I would a foil capsule, slicing it around the lip of the bottle and cutting or breaking it free until the top of the cork is completely visible.

If you’re not worried about sediment getting stirred up, or you have time to let the bottle rest upright for a few days afterward, you can take an adventurous tip from Wine Spectator’s tasting department: In a pot or bowl of very hot water, carefully hold the bottle upside down, with just the top of the bottle submerged in the hot water (you don’t want the wine to get hot); after a minute or so, you should be able to cleanly wipe the softened wax off with a thickly folded paper towel.

—Dr. Vinny

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