What's the best way to open a wine bottle that has wax over the cork?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What is the best way to open a bottle of wine or spirit that has sealing wax over the cork? I have tried cutting, chipping, and simply sinking the corkscrew through the wax into the cork. I always end up with bits of wax in my wine, which is more than a little discouraging. Recently I was given a pricey bottle of Bourbon sealed the same way. I’ve love to hear your advice before I try to tackle that one.

—Earline L., San Francisco

Dear Earline,

When it comes to wax-topped wine bottles, the best way to open them really is to just stick your corkscrew through the wax and pretend it’s not there. There are a couple of caveats to this advice, though: first off, make sure you’re using a waiter’s corkscrew (not an Ah-So or lever-pull style), preferably one that isn’t coated with Teflon, which the wax will do a real number on. Simply estimate where the center of the cork is, put in your corkscrew, and before you make the final tug to get the cork out, brush off any stray bits of wax so they don’t fall into the bottle.

When it comes to Bourbon, be warned that many bottles don’t have a cork in them like a wine cork—many have a cork capped off with a plastic top, and I don’t recommend sticking a corkscrew through those. Look for a tab in the Bourbon’s wax topping, which will unpeel a line in the wax like a pack of gum. That would be a clue that underneath the wax is either a capped cork or a twist-off closure.

—Dr. Vinny

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