The Challenge of Older Corks

Like any job, using the right tool, the right way makes a huge difference

A comparison of cork lengths used for Au Bon Climat wines.

To ensure the best possible closure, we use highest quality corks that have excellent impermeable and elastic properties. It is a necessity for our wines that age so well.

As we have begun selling more of our library wines, the number of complaints about corks has increased. The #1 complaint is that they break halfway out of the bottle.

We hate to tell you this, but we buy premium corks, so it’s generally user error. The main issue for Au Bon Climat bottles is that we use extra-long corks for wines with greater aging potential. Some pronged cork pullers do not go down far enough, and some corkscrews have augers that are too short for our corks. Then there is correct use of the opener itself. Another issue is the age of the wine. The cork will slowly absorb the wine, and over time the condition of the cork will decline. Our corks have a long life, but extra care is needed when opening an older vintage. If the cork is not removed properly, and this even happens to us, the long corks can break, leaving a portion still wedged in the neck of the bottle.

To open older bottles, we use a Durand at the winery, which is a combination of a corkscrew and a cork puller. The Durand works amazingly well with older and long corks. The downside is a Durand is expensive. For die-hard wine aficionados, it is worth it.

If you are not familiar with an Ah-So cork puller, it has two prongs that slide down the side of the cork. To insert, make sure the two prongs are going against the grain of the cork. In a rocking motion while easing it down, continue until fully inserted, and then pull up. An Ah-So is also effective with older corks, and is dramatically less expensive than a Durand.

To open older wines or bottles with long corks with a regular corkscrew, you need to be very careful. Make sure the auger is centered in the cork and then twist the corkscrew inserting it as far as possible. Pull the cork straight out of the bottle. As the cork begins to exit the bottle, do not “bend or angle” it, but PULL straight out of the bottle. Our logoed metal corkscrews have an extra-long auger that is great for the job.

HINT: If you find yourself with a portion of the cork stuck in the neck of the bottle, you can extract it, but takes patience. Very gently insert the tip of the corkscrew into the remaining cork, and either twist the bottle or slowly turn the wine key so your corkscrew enters the remaining cork without pushing down. Once you are through the remaining portion of cork, SLOWLY pull straight out.