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Up to about eleven years ago I was a complete innocent. I thought I knew a thing or two about the world and how to enjoy its choicest pleasures. Take wine, for instance. I could instantly tell the difference between a red and a white and thought my palate capable of appreciating the finest vintage; provided of course that I could get the cork out of the bottle.
Ever tried to impress someone with your knowledge of wine, or simply with the fact that you've bought one that cost more than £4.99? The lights are low, the music is cool, dinner for two is on the table, along with a bottle of plonk that has been carefully selected not to have the name of a supermarket on it. I don't know about you but I always found those moments lost some of their lustre when the wine glass you handed them had pieces of cork floating in it. We've all had those times, I suppose. The cork partly disintegrates, leaving us to dig the thing out with a penknife, or something. And at the best of times it was a young man's game. These days I don't think I could bend myself into the sort of position necessary to hold the bottle between my feet or knees, while I tugged with both hands on the corkscrew. And, thinking about it, that doesn't create a very good impression, anyway.
Thank Heavens that someone finally introduced me to the Screwpull. I was an innocent no longer.
The screwpull is one of those deceptively simple devices. I have the classic table version. It consists of a long metal screw with a plastic handle, inside a plastic guide that fits around the bottle neck. It looks flimsy. It looks like nothing, but trust me: this is real genius.
The explanation of how to work it is even simpler. Position the guide around the bottle neck. Insert the screw over the cork and start turning.
"When do I pull?"
"You don't pull."
"I don't pull?!?"
"You don't pull. Just keep turning."
And that's all you do. You just keep turning. It's a finger exercise. My old mother could have done this with her arthritic hands. You turn the screw until it is right down into the cork and then when you keep on turning (yes, in the same direction!), the screw is lifted out.
I'll be honest. I still don't understand how it works. I can't help feeling that Archimedes might have had something to do with it. He was a clever bloke, that Archimedes, although doubtless Mrs Archimedes had something to do with it too. Very clever. Actually, it was a man called Herbert Allen who invented it in 1979. He was an oilman, so I suppose he knew a thing or two about drilling.
The company that makes them is Le Creuset and they offer a five year guarantee, which is very nice of them. There's not a lot that can go wrong, to be honest, although I did manage to break my friend's the first time I was introduced to it. She foolishly asked me to open another bottle and i snapped the guide because I was gripping it too tightly and trying to exert force where none was needed! I bought her another and one for myself while I was about it. It continues to do good service and might well see me out.
The classic Screwpull table version by Le Creuset currently retails for about £20.00. To me this would normally sound like a lot of money for a bottle opener. Well, in fact, it DOES seem like a lot of money, but to be fair my Screwpull has paid me back many times over.
And now, with Nat King Cole on the gramophone, I can effortlessly slide the cork from the neck of a bottle of Don Cortez and impress beautiful women by the bucketful.
All I need is a bucketful of beautiful women.
This device sounds like a totally useless gadget suitable only for total wine snobs, but it's actually invaluable. I seem to be incapable of getting the foil off a bottle of wine without a fight, and opening the wine with the foil still on has sometimes been disastrous! I was therefore keen to try the foil cutter when I was given it is a present. It's brilliant! The cutter is of smart black plastic, more or less U-shaped, with sharp metal wheels visible inside (far enough inside for your fingers to be safe!). You just place the foilcutter over the wine bottle, squeeze gently and turn for a quarter-turn. The top of the foil comes off easily and perfectly as you lift the cutter: aesthetically pleasing as well as practical. Because the remaining foil on the bottle isn't pulled away or jagged, pouring is easier too. In summary, this is more useful than you'd imagine!
Do you find gadgets irresistible? I normally manage to refrain, but when I saw a Screwpull wine opener in the sale at Boots, I visualised the cork popping out of the 1995 Rioja on the mantlepiece at home. Out of the packaging, it looked less impressive. It is the table version and comprises the screw, its guider and a holder. It’s quite easy to use, you just position it over the top of the cork and turn the screw. It works by having excess space at the top of the screw, so that the cork can work its way upwards, having a lifting effect. After use, my first thought would be that I’d find a chunk of cork floating around in my wine, but was pleasantly surprised that there wasn’t. There hasn’t been any in any subsequent bottles either. On the whole, the design is so simple, it’s possible you could get creative and make your own easily with a little more style. It doesn’t look particularly appealing as there’s quite an abundance of plastic and the plastic handle instills a little anxiety when using as it gives a little bit as you turn the screw! I believe that it would be much improved, both aesthetically and functionally if it was made of stainless steel. I think it would be particularly useful for people who perhaps have trouble with joints in their hands or for when you have already had a bottle as it really does make opening your plonk a very easy job indeed..