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Opening old wines successfully.....

You’ll have spotted that we’re now listing some older wines, often in limited parcels. These tend to be wines which aren’t easily available through usual retail sources. As many of us have discovered they’re lovely, showing what 20 years of so of ageing can do to well made wines.

There’s only one problem: 20+ year old corks can be difficult to remove, at least in one piece. The cork may well have crumbled, most often near the top. So a normal extraction attempt with a corkscrew blows the top half apart leaving the bottom half firmly wedged well down the neck.

So what to do?

The best answer is to equip yourself suitably and anticipate the problem by not using a corkscrew at all. Instead use a cork puller, often known as a butler’s thief.

Insert the tines gently down the sides of the cork, long tine first, walking them alternately down until you’ve gone the length of the cork.

Then, again gently, twist and pull the cork out.

Pressing the outside of the tines as you pull the cork can help to give a firmer grip too.

These are easily available and cheap: try searching for “butlers thief” on Amazon for example.

If you haven’t one of these to hand, first make sure you have a good corkscrew with a thin worm. Standard waiter’s friend corkscrews are pretty good, particularly when the worm is Teflon coated.

Going in at an angle, even up to 45 degrees, can secure enough cork to pull it out.

But sometimes the only thing to do is to push the cork, or what’s left of it, into the bottle. Again, gently is a good word, and so is apron. You may well get a splash back. Now pour the wine into a decanter or jug, preferably through a funnel with a filter, either a proper wine funnel like this:

Or insert an improvised filter. Muslin, or nylon tights or pop socks are excellent for this!

But beware the second splash back! When you tip the bottle to pour the wine into the funnel the cork will very likely get stuck near the neck, blocking the pour. Dexterity now comes into play to dislodge the cork enough to pour past. Good luck!

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