Tips & Tricks: When Cork Attacks

13 06 2011

My Andrew Will, and the biggest piece of cork that refused to be separated from it.

I fully intended to write a wine review last night.  I had the wine all selected, and was even going upscale:  the 2005 Andrew Will Ciel du Cheval Vineyard red from Highlander Wine & Spirits, a $55-$65 predominantly Merlot/Cab Franc blend from one of the best producers and top vineyards in Washington State.  I had my notepad in front of me and my iPhone camera armed and ready; I popped the cork and out came…half of it.  The other half didn’t even budge from the bottom of the bottle neck.  I gently tried pulling out the stuck half with the corkscrew, but to no avail:  all I ended up doing was puncturing a good sized hole in the middle of the half-cork and causing a bunch of cork debris to fall into the wine.  Awesome.  I eventually ended up having to push the stuck cork back down into the wine, which would have been a great idea if the cork hadn’t disintegrated on its departure from the bottle neck and showered Andrew Will’s labour of love with a fine layer of wood powder.  After some salvage efforts I was able to get the wine back to a quasi-drinkable state, but decided against putting it up on PnP in case somebody questioned my tasting notes of sawdust, tree bark and firewood.

As a mournful tribute to the waste of a bottle that good (and the corresponding portion of my wine budget that went with it), I thought that tonight I’d quickly touch on what to do if you’re faced with this exact situation where your cork breaks as you’re pulling it out of the bottle.  Step one:  swear.  Even if you manage to save the day with the maneuvers described below, it’s still a giant pain that will require most of the contents of the bottle you’re trying to rescue to de-stress from.

One of the key tips I was given for getting broken corks out of bottles is to avoid going back into the cork remnant with the corkscrew head on.  Instead, if possible, try to insert the corkscrew at an angle, which will give you more surface area of cork to work with and avoid the puncture hole you created on your initial attempt to get the cork out.  Once the corkscrew is angled in properly, pull up with very slow but constant pressure.  If you’re lucky, the stuck part of the cork will ease out and that will be that.  If you’re unlucky, the corkscrew won’t grab enough or the cork will be sodden enough that you will only succeed in gouging another hole in the cork.  If the hole is big enough that you can fit the corkscrew through it to the underside of the cork, try tilting the bottle at a fairly steep angle and scraping/digging out chunks of cork from beneath.  If you can do this without the cork shattering, you may escape without polluting the wine.  If nothing at all is working, you may have to do what I did and use the bottom of a knife to punch the cork down and into the bottle.

Crap.

If these cork removal operations have caused some of the cork to fall into the wine, the likelihood that you are now screwed is inversely proportional to the size of the cork chunks now interacting with your drink.  If the pieces are fairly large, it’s easy enough to fish them out once you’ve poured a glass, but if your cork has deteriorated to the point where specks of powdered cork dust are now dispersed in the wine, it’s extremely tough to get them out.  Here’s one thing to try:  take some cheesecloth (culinary netting that’s often used to bundle up herbs steeping in stews or sauces, as well as, unsurprisingly, for making cheese) and make a folded strip about four layers thick, then stretch it across the mouth of the bottle and pour the wine through it and into a decanter.  That will filter out a large amount of cork deposit that would otherwise end up in your glass.  Unfortunately, in my case last night, that makeshift filter wasn’t fine enough to get the cork sand out of my Andrew Will.  I’ve heard that some people use a coffee filter to similar effect, but to me that sounds like it could get messy fast.

Even if some cork particles remain in your wine, it doesn’t mean the resulting product is undrinkable; it just means that the flavour and texture might be impacted depending on how much cork stays in the wine.  Fingers crossed you’ll never have to put these survival tricks into practice!

If anyone has had the ’05 Andrew Will Ciel du Cheval, let me know how it was and if it’s worth my investing in another bottle at some point.  Sawdustiness aside, it seemed like it would have been a blockbuster.

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2 responses

3 06 2015
Adrian

Easiest method I’ve found is to use a French press, quick and not messy as using a paper filter. Also, a paper coffee filter could possibly add a paper taste as it does to coffee utilizing this brewing method, but likely not as noticeable with wine.

3 06 2015
petervetsch

Thanks Adrian – good call! I would definitely pick cheesecloth over a coffee filter if going the paper/fabric route, and the former hasn’t imparted any taste to the wine that I’ve noticed, but a French press is a great idea if you have one around. Cheers!

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