Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
What’s the best way to remove a crumbly wine cork? I’ve tried everything!
—Michael, Kamloops, Canada
It’s hard to know whether or not a cork is fragile until you start to pull it. A waiter’s corkscrew is the ideal opener because it offers you flexibility to stop and re-position if it looks like the cork is in danger of breaking. If you do notice the cork is cracking or crumbling, take it slow, and twist the worm (spiral) farther into the cork before continuing to extract it. If that doesn’t seem to solve the problem, try approaching the cork at an angle to give the worm a better grip.
A two-pronged ah-so is designed specifically for removing delicate corks, but using one takes practice. There are also combination openers like the Durand, also specifically designed for fragile corks.
Crumbly corks are a fact of wine life, especially when dealing with wines more than a decade old, but if you’re encountering an excessive number of them, you may want to examine your wine storage. Keep your wines away from light and heat, and make sure the wine bottles are stored on their sides, which helps prevent corks from drying out. Ideally, wines should be stored at a relative humidity of 70 percent, which will also help preserve the integrity of those corks.
A crumbly cork doesn’t necessarily mean there’s going to be anything wrong with the wine, but as corks dry out, they become more permeable to air and can create an imperfect seal for the bottle, all of which can lead to a wine becoming oxidized.
When corks crumble, you'll also likely end up with bits of cork floating in your wine bottle, and that's OK! They won't harm the wine at all, and you can decant the wine through a cheesecloth or coffee filter to remove them, or just pluck them out of your glass.