6 ways to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew, ranked by ease and practicality

Amber Gibson Jun 9, 2021, | Insider

  • The easiest way to open wine without a corkscrew is to push the cork into the bottle.
  • Other methods involving shoes, lighters, screws, and bike pumps are all effective but less practical.
  • If you break the cork, strain the wine through a coffee filter before drinking it.
If you find yourself without a corkscrew, you can use what you have on hand to open your wine. Mint Images/Getty Images
If you find yourself without a corkscrew, you can use what you have on hand to open your wine. Mint Images/Getty Images

We’ve all been there. You have a bottle of wine but no corkscrew to be found. Don’t panic. You’ll still be able to enjoy your wine. Just follow one of these methods below depending on how practical or flashy you’re feeling, and what tools you have on hand. First things first – take the foil off. No matter what method you’re using, this is the first step. From there, you can try any of these methods below, but — fair warning — they get less practical as you go.

Quick tip: If you want to take the easy way out and buy a corkscrew, check out Insiders picks for the best wine openers.

Push the cork in

Find a sturdy object smaller than the opening of the bottle and slowly push the cork down. Westend61/Getty Images
Find a sturdy object smaller than the opening of the bottle and slowly push the cork down. Westend61/Getty Images

Pushing the cork into the bottle is the expert-approved method of winemakers and sommeliers. You could break a nail, but otherwise, this is the safest and most straightforward method. Once the foil is off, simply push the cork into the bottle with your fingers or a sturdy small object like a key, lipstick container, the handle of a wooden spoon, or a pen. You can use the palm of your hand as a hammer.

“This always gets the job done,” says winemaker Stuart Spoto of Spoto Family Wines. “I’ve done it a hundred times.” Depending on the length of the cork and the specific bottle, it may be harder or easier but shouldn’t take long.

“Take it slowly. Be cautious and patient,” Spoto says. As you push the cork in, the wine will spray out, so be prepared with a towel around the bottle.

Once the cork is in the bottle, it may block the neck, so it helps to have something long like a fork or your finger to move the cork and ensure you can pour the wine out. Done right, the cork should be intact, so although it’s submerged in the wine you don’t need to worry about small bits of cork in the wine as you pour.

Use a key as a corkscrew

Instead of pushing the cork in, this method relies on jamming the key into the cork, then pulling it out like you would with a corkscrew. Stick a house key into the cork at a diagonal angle, then twist the key while pulling upwards to dislodge the cork.

This method can be hit-or-miss, and if you try a few times and can’t get the key to grip the cork, you’ll damage the cork and may have small pieces of cork falling into the wine. It’s hard to get enough grip or leverage.

“I’ve never tried this method,” Spoto says. “If I had a key I’d just use it to push the cork in.”

Quick tip: If you break the cork using any of these methods, strain the wine through a coffee filter to remove any broken cork bits before you drink it.

Screw and hammer method

Insert a screw into the cork and pull it out with the claw of a hammer. Sergio Delle Vedove / EyeEm/Getty Images
Insert a screw into the cork and pull it out with the claw of a hammer. Sergio Delle Vedove / EyeEm/Getty Images

A more elaborate rendition of the ‘key as handle’ method above, this method involves inserting a screw into the cork, then using the forked end of the hammer to pry the cork out by using the leverage of the screw. Just like with a real wine key, twisting as you pull upwards always helps.

“Typically, if you find yourself without a corkscrew, you probably won’t have a screw or hammer either,” Spoto points out. “With that said, screwing a screw in the cork and using a hammer to pull it out is a very safe method.”

Heat the neck up

Use a long lighter to keep your hand away from the flame. EugeneTomeev/Getty Images
Use a long lighter to keep your hand away from the flame. EugeneTomeev/Getty Images

Once the foil is off, take a flame to the neck of the bottle and heat the air gap between the cork and the wine. Turn the bottle slowly to heat the air uniformly and minimize the likelihood of the glass shattering. The cork will slowly be pushed out until you can grab it and pull it the rest of the way.

“It works, and it works well,” Spoto says. “It’s pure physics. As you’re heating the air, you’re creating more pressure. The liquid doesn’t expand, so the air only has one place to go and it pushes the cork out. If you take it to the full extent, it’ll pop like a champagne cork.”

Spoto did this once when he was much younger and said it took less than a minute for the cork to slide out. He doesn’t recommend this method though. Although it works, it’s dangerous since fire is involved, and there’s the possibility the bottle may break if it gets too hot.

Bike pump method

Set the wine bottle upright on a flat surface and jam an air needle into the centre of the cork. The needle must be long enough to push all the way through the cork into the air space in the bottle. Then simply start pumping air in and, within a minute or two, the cork should rise enough that you can grab it with pliers or your hand to pull it out.

“This works great,” Spoto says. “The increase in air pressure drives the cork out.” It’s the same principle behind heating the neck up, but less dangerous, although you’re more likely to have a lighter than a bicycle pump on hand.

Shoe and wall trick

Sit the bottle of wine securely inside the shoe, then bang it against the wall to force the cork out. AlanMBarr/Getty Images
Sit the bottle of wine securely inside the shoe, then bang it against the wall to force the cork out. AlanMBarr/Getty Images

Place the wine bottle in a shoe — a flat shoe with a hard rubber sole will work best — with the base of the bottle nestled at the heel and the bottle standing upright like a leg. Hold the toe of the shoe with one hand and the wine bottle, just below the neck, with the other.

Strike the wall perpendicularly with the base of the wine bottle in the shoe. “The idea here is you’re hammering the cork out ever so slightly,” Spoto says. “As you pound, you’re moving the liquid in one direction, and it starts pushing the cork out.”

But not any shoe will work. Don’t try this with heels, and cushioned running shoes won’t transmit enough force to the bottle. This method can be exhausting and take a very long time. Once the cork is dislodged enough to grab with pliers or your fingers, you can pull it out the rest of the way.

Spoto does not recommend this method. “You’re just shaking the wine up, and I don’t think it’s good for the wine,” he says. “It looks more like a trick than anything else.”

More tips for opening a bottle of wine without a corkscrew

  • The best method uses objects that you have readily available
  • Sanitize your object of choice – key, nail, air needle – before sticking it into the cork.
  • Synthetic cork may be more difficult to manoeuvre because it has less give than a natural cork.
  • Always exercise caution if you’re playing with fire or sharp objects

Insider’s takeaway

It’s easy to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew. Pushing it in is the most practical method, and using a lighter to heat the air beneath the cork works every time too with a little extra flair and danger. Hammering the wine out with a shoe can be fun if you want to put on a show or entertain yourself. But for everyone’s sanity and safety, you’re better off investing in at least a simple wine key.

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