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Let's be honest — corks aren't essential for most wines, only perhaps those venerable bottles that you want to keep for a decade or so. Most would be better serviced with a screw cap. But corks make wine different … they are part of the romance, the courtship, the ceremony of opening a bottle.

Corks, however, can also bring with them unwanted musty flavors that spoil a wine, so there has been much research into finding an alternative. Headway has been made and you may, from time to time, find a synthetic cork — or even a screw cap, which have become increasingly popular, even for extremely expensive wines. Though they lack the romance of a cork, they also lack the possibility of tainted wine from cork.

For both natural and synthetic corks, a good corkscrew is essential. A poor one will tear the middle out of a cork and hurt your hand. How do you spot a good one? It will have a comfortable grip, use counter-pressure against the rim of the bottle and the screw will have an open spiral with a clear line of sight up the middle, to grip as much cork as possible. The common, folding 'waiter's friend' is often the handiest, simplest and most practical corkscrew to have at your fingertips.

Avoid capsules. Nothing spoils the look of a wine more than a ragged-edged capsule, where the cork has been pulled through. To avoid this, simply cut a circle just below the ridge on the neck of the bottle and remove (a 'waiter's friend' is handy here, too). If there is any mold, wipe it away and don't worry about it!

For opening sparkling wines, racing drivers pop them with alarming alacrity. However, if you want to keep the contents in the bottle, follow these few simple rules:

  • Chill the wine well and don't shake the bottle — the wine will taste better and more will stay in the bottle.
  • Once the wire cage is removed, keep your thumb over the cork at all times and never point it at anything (or anybody) precious.
  • Twist the bottle and not the cork and remove it slowly so there is a sigh, not a loud pop, as you open the bottle.
  • Finally, to serve with style, put your thumb up the 'punt' (the dimple at the bottom of the bottle) and pour slowly.