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For Older Wines and Corks, Use an Ah-So

Keep an ah-so handy to tackle delicate, potentially crumbly corks
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Jan 17, 2012 4:00pm ET

I didn't intend to write about corks again today. But last night as I opened a 1995 Beringer Howell Mountain Tre Colline Cabernet (which was excellent), the cork split in two and eventually crumbled.

The moment that cork split I remembered what I had promised to remind myself about opening older bottles of wine: Don't use a traditional corkscrew; use an ah-so.

If you like to collect and drink older wines, an ah-so is an invaluable tool. It's a two-pronged key-shaped device that slides into the neck of a bottle, one prong on either side of the cork. To remove the cork, you gently twist and extract the ah-so, bringing the entire cork with it.

Traditional corkscrews and lever pulls are great. The latter is particularly efficient for opening lots of bottles in a short period of time. But keep an ah-so around. It's a far safer way to open older bottles with delicate corks. When the cork comes out in one piece, there's no cork film or bits floating in your wine, let alone a third of the cork floating around in the bottle, as I had last night.

Christopher J Ascher
Shorewood, MN —  January 17, 2012 10:23pm ET

You've made an excellent point. I bought an ah-so when I first started buying wine in 2000 and still have it. I've looked at it a few times and thought I should throw it away as I prefer a waiters corkscrew. I will be holding on to it!

I also learned a trick about a year ago from a waitress at one of our favorite local restaurants. My wife and I brought a bottle of wine from our cellar to the restaurant. The cork broke in half before the cork was out of the bottle. She expertly took the bottom half of the cork out by drilling the worm into the cork at an angle towards the bottle neck.

It is more fun to drink the wine without cork bits floating in it!
Brad Paulsen
Saratoga, CA —  January 17, 2012 11:56pm ET
A great reminder. Easier to keep on hand than a swatch of cheese cloth and strainer to resolve the inevitable crumble debris. Most of my friends are challenged by the subtle rocking of the blades to insert/seat the Ah-so. They seem to find it easier to twist in the screw, break, push-in .... clean up the blow-back and then strain. What ever fills your glass!

Andrew J Walter
Sacramento, CA —  January 18, 2012 6:32am ET
This is reason number 462 why we should switch en mass from corks to caps
Whit Thompson
Rochester, NY —  January 18, 2012 9:30am ET
Learned that same lesson with a bottle of '97 Isosceles I brought to the house of the friend who originally gave it to me. I will usually bring my trusty ah-so to restaurants (ignoring the derisive stares from servers who choose to take it as some kind of indictment of their opening skills), but I forgot to slip it in my pocket on this occasion. The wine was ultimately delicious, but not before we'd spent some time with a strainer and, ultimately, a tea steeper to remove the finest particles.
Anthony W Beck
Los Angeles, Ca. —  January 18, 2012 11:50am ET
James: The ah-so also works extremely well in getting the cork back in the bottle if you don't have an appropriate stopper or vacuum arrangement.
Dave Reuther
Deerfield, Illinois —  January 18, 2012 4:02pm ET
The Ah-So is also helpful when the cork is stuck and won't budge in the bottle neck. The two prongs inserted on each side of the cork are effective in breaking the seal so the cork can be pulled out.
Prof Michael Adler
New York, NY., USA —  January 18, 2012 5:20pm ET
What the anti-cork movement needs is leadership, particularly from the bottlers of grand cru wines in Bordeaux and Burgundy. Were Chateaux Lafite and Haut Brion together with DRC and Leroy to announce a joint move to screw caps, could the rest of the industry stay far behind?
Greg Flanagan
Bethel CT —  January 18, 2012 6:17pm ET
James...or anyone?

Any suggestions for 3.0L and 6.0L bottles?

Do "regular sized" openers, screws, ah-sos, etc., work?

And let's be honest guys.....unscrewing a nice bottle of wine sucks! (and yes, I know the science tells us that corks suck)

That POP (and ceremony of opening the bottle) is too large of a part of the wine drinking experience for me to seek out screw caps.

Just twisted the top off a 90pt Wine Spectator cabernet. Wish it were a cork....

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