Open Sesame: What Openers Do the Pros Use?

In my wine 101 workshops, I say the first step in tasting wine is “see.” And with a harmonic chorus of ohhs and ahhs, we all look at the wine in our glasses and discuss what we observe.

There’s only one problem: Technically, I lied. The first step is getting the #@*$ bottle open.

I know, I know. Duh, Zelezny. But sometimes this step is not as easy as we’d hope, even with all the newfangled gadgets now on the market. And trust me, I know. I’ve tried them all.

The Manual Twist-And-Pull can require some serious brut force. The Waiter’s Friend and Double-Hinged Waiter’s Friend, sometimes known as a Wine Key, takes practice to master (i.e. not look like a crab opening a wine bottle). The Winged Corkscrew is totally old school and has a tendency to shred the cork to bits. The Lever-Style opener is easy to use but cumbersome and pricey. The Electric opener is also pricey, and slow and unreliable.

So which do you pick?

We polled a diverse group of wine drinkers about their preferences, and here’s what we learned:

The Wine Writer

Madeline Puckette is the force behind Wine Folly, based in Seattle, and co-author of the brilliant new book Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine

Her choice: The double-hinged Pulltaps waiter’s friend

Why?: “It’s small, nimble, affordable, and easy to use. Plus, if it gets taken away from me in airport security, it’s not a huge deal.”

The Wine Educator

Christian Oggenfuss is one of my mentors and the Chief Education Officer at the Napa Valley Wine Academy. The Academy is based in Napa Valley, but you can also find Christian and his team hosting classes across California, Florida, and Ohio.

His choice?: The classic two-step waiter’s corkscrew

Why?: “Why mess with simplicity and effectiveness? This is a tool that contains all the necessary tools: a knife for cutting the foil, corkscrew for pulling the cork, and the two-step lever for making sure it comes out straight. A case of function over style!”

The Chef

Alex Tishman is the Head Chef at the private-chef agency Big City Chefs in San Francisco.

His choice?: The double-hinged waiter’s corkscrew, with a teflon coated screw and serrated foil cutter

Why?: “Convenience and size primarily. I also like that it takes a little skill and finesse to use correctly, especially with the older bottles. Lastly, I also think they are pretty perfect and beautiful.”

The Food & Travel Contest Developer

Kelly Lack is the Content & Community Lead at Spot, a new food, travel, and local-finds app, based in San Francisco.

Her choice?: The double-hinged waiters corkscrew.

Why?: “The double hinge allows for much more leverage, making it ridiculously easy to smoothly remove the cork. I don’t know why all wine openers don’t have this design.”

The Ice Creamery Owner

Tamara Keefe (aka Flavor Temptress) is an ice cream chef and owner of St. Louis’ hip new Clementine’s Creamery, which even features some tasty booze-infused flavors.

Her choice?: It depends on the situation.

Why?: “At home I use an electric one because its cool and easy. But for picnics I like my levered Rabbit opener. It’s easy to use and comes in a box for easy storage. No braun required. It saves face for people who aren’t experienced with a twist-and-pull opener or who tend to break the cork. That said, I always keep a traditional waiter’s friend in my trunk for emergencies.”

The Artist

Christina LoCascio is a Santa Barbara-based painter with a background in the wine industry. What better way to combine her passions than to paint with wine. No, seriously. Her work is amazing. Check her out at She is also the owner of the Los Olivos General Store.

Her choice?: The double-hinged corkscrew

Why?: “I like being able to remove the cork with just two pulls.”

The Tech-Community Builder

Arabella DeLucco is a Community Builder + Dot Connecter at Autodesk, a 3D software company in San Francisco. But she is also a hobby chef and wine lover.

Her choice?: The waiter’s friend – “The one that my husband and I got from Cambria Winery in Santa Barbara County in 2010.”

Why?: “It has a good grip and it’s sentimental because that was the day my now-husband first professed his love! Awwwww…..”

The Chorale General Manager

Andy Brown is the General Manager of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, which calls the architecturally brilliant Walt Disney Concert Hall home. Aside from having a great appreciation for fine music, he also has a great appreciation for fine wine.

His choice?: The Waiter’s Corkscrew

Why?: “For me, it’s about the ritual and anticipation. It’s like unwrapping a Christmas present. This wine has been waiting oh-so-patiently in the bottle – why rush it? It’s the commencement. Savor the process as much as the first sip – the folding out of the knife, the steady turning of the bottle to slice the foil, then the gentle peeling away of the foil. Find just the right spot in the cork to feed the screw. Twist with slow, even pressure to make the screw and cork giggle eagerly as cold steel tickles cork – then pop! That sound. So brief, but so rewarding. Lastly, the worm settles back into the resting embrace of the handle, waiting to be called upon again. Job well done, my friend. Job well done.”

The Doctor

Juliette Asuncion is a family physician based in Sweet Home, Oregon, and is known to many of her patients as Dr. Sunshine.

Her choice?: The Waiter’s Friend

Why?: “It’s multifunctional and portable. You can use it to open a bottle of wine or a bottle of beer.”

The Boat Skipper

Eric Hall is both a skipper with the Humboldt Bay Sea Scouts and school teacher based in Blue Lake, California, where he and his wife also tend to a menagerie of animals.

His choice?: Swiss Army knife

Why?: “It is reliable. And if the cork is damaged, I already have all the additional tools I need.”

Happy bottle opening!

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