Published Jeremy. Last Updated on February 9, 2021.
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When building our wine cellar, we also thought it would be fun to test out many wine openers to see how they all work and to find a favorite. While we settled on the waiter's corkscrew as our trusty standard, we found that it is not ideal for one specific category of wine- old bottles.
The reason for this is because as time goes by, the wine in the bottle isn't the only thing that ages. Natural cork found in many bottles also ages, and they can become less structurally sound (namely, brittle) as time goes on.
If you use a corkscrew on these, you may be liable to damage the cork more than you would in a younger bottle, and the likelihood of having cork bits falling into your wine goes up (sometimes substantially).
Enter the Ah So– a two-pronged wine opener that can remove cork from older bottles without puncturing the cork at all!
How Does an Ah So Wine Opener Work?
The premise of how an Ah So wine opener works is simple. This handy device features two prongs that can gently be inserted on opposing sides of a cork while it is in the bottle. The process of inserting the prongs into the bottle creates compression against the cork, and this compression allows for a somewhat gentle removal of the cork as you pull it out.
In our experience, bottle age is key here.
The damage concerns mentioned above are often most discussed with this style of opener, but we've also found that attempting to use an Ah So on a younger cork isn't as effective. Whether or not the compression simply isn't good enough for a younger (and more stable) cork could be up for debate, but we often find our Ah So pulling out of younger bottles sans cork when testing it out in these cases.
As such, there is likely a sweet spot for when two-pronged wine openers should be used, and that is generally considered to be for bottles around 15 years and older (although we'd probably make our own cut-off around 10). In these cases, the cork has aged a fair bit, the Ah So can slide in with ease, and the compression factor you get out of the device seems to work just fine.
But for younger wines, your mileage may vary on how well it works as this one is most certainly an acquired skill.
Steps to Remove a Cork with a Two Prong Wine Opener
The steps to removing a cork with a two-prong wine opener are pretty straight forward.
When you look at an Ah So, you'll note that one of the prongs is longer than the other. This prong is the first one that is inserted between the cork and the bottle. You'll have to use a bit of force, but generally it should slide in without having to stress.
The distance you want to slide this prong down is a balancing act, as you only want to insert it far enough to allow for the second prong to reach the surface of the cork. If you insert too far, you'll likely find that the second prong overshot the lip and cannot be squeeze into place. Likewise, if you do not insert it far enough, the compression generated in the slight push on the second prong may cause the first to pop out of the bottle.
You get the feel for this one over time, but note that it may take a couple of tries. Just be aware this may happen as it could throw you off if you're not expecting it.
Once the two prongs are inserted ever-so-slightly, you'll need to begin to push down on the Ah So to get each prong fully inserted. It is likely that you'll have to push down in a gentle rocking motion from side-to-side (on the same plane as the prongs) such that they slowly go in on alternating sides with each rock. Firm pushes directly down may cause the cork to push down into the bottle if the compression catches it improperly.
So, how far down do you push?
I generally like to insert the prongs until just under a finger tip's width (narrow side) is exposed as illustrated in the above photo. The reason for this is because this seems to coincide with the prongs being inserted about 90% of the way down the cork without overshooting.
When the cork is removed, you'll likely find that the Ah So scrapes the sides ever-so-slightly (and is sometimes more pronounced with the wine is younger). If this happens and you have inserted the Ah So too far down, you may inadvertently get some cork bits into your bottle. Far less cork than you may otherwise have when using a traditional corkscrew, of course, but they may be present all the same.
This is another balancing act here as if you have not inserted the Ah So far enough, it may pull out without the cork completely.
Once you have the Ah So inserted into the bottle, you will then grab the handle and begin to twist and gently pull outward at the same time. As your force is split between the twisting motion and the pulling motion, I generally err on being firmer in my twist and gentler in my pull as it is about maintaining the compression the prongs have on the cork- pull too much and that force may overtake the compression forces and you'll pull out the Ah So sans cork, again.
Keep this motion up and your cork should pop free!
Now, the process of using an Ah So is easier-said-than-done. I've mentioned the learning curve on this one several times, and it is most certainly true. You may wish to practice on some younger bottles before grabbing that 10, 15, or 20 year old bottle to get an idea of the motions (which I'd recommend), but it is worth noting that opening a younger bottle with this tool is harder overall.
If you're like me, what you'll likely find in this case is that you can insert the Ah So just fine, but you'll likely not have the twisting force down to pull the cork out properly. I've had many bottles where the cork stays in place, the Ah So comes out empty, and I switch to my waiter's corkscrew to finish the job (or, worse, I push the cork down into the wine bottle- both happen regularly).
Still, this practice helped me understand this one quite well such that when I reached for a 15-year-old bottle of Chateau Musar, I nailed it on the first try. Really, successfully opening an aged bottle is all that matters with the Ah So is all that matters.
Practice makes perfect here as using an Ah So is most certainly a learned skill.
Do you use a two-pronged wine opener? Share your best tip for opening a bottle below!