It’s an awful situation we’ve all faced at one point or another: You have a bottle of wine you want to drink but no corkscrew on hand. Professional bartenders and wine pros offered their favorite MacGyver-style wine bottle tricks. These are six tips they recommend.
1. Shoe or Boot
“Not counting sabering, the weirdest way I've opened a bottle is the shoe trick,” says Vince Stilletti, the manager of The Red Hook Winery in Brooklyn, New York. “Weirder still was that it was at a hotel in Italy, where you'd think they'd have wine keys in every room.”
The process, says Stilletti, is as follows. “Remove the foil and any cap from the top, then place the bottom of the bottle into a shoe where your heel would go,” he says. “I've only done it with sneakers, but anything with some cushioning should work. Then find a sturdy wall or beam, and line your shoe and bottle up to it so that the shoe is vertical and the bottle is horizontal. Holding the bottle and shoe firmly together, tap both against the vertical surface like you're hammering a nail. It takes patience, but eventually the force will slowly push the cork out of the neck enough for you to remove it with your hand.”
Agave spirits expert Carmen Lopez Torres, who’s based in Mexico, is also a fan of this method, particularly for the show. “I love people's faces when you do the shoe trick; it’s like they don't expect it to work but it does,” she says.
New York City bartender Paula Lukas achieved a similar effect with a towel and tree. “When I was a camp counselor and didn't have an opener, we wrapped the bottle in a towel and banged it against a tree,” she says. “It worked.”
Be sure to use a sturdy, flat surface, and don’t tap too hard, or things could go awry.
2. Ballpoint Pen
Lauren Darnell, a bartender and spirits expert in Seattle, has put the shoe trick to use herself in the past, but notes that a ballpoint pen will work in a pinch. “I once used one to whittle away at the cork, then I strained [the wine] through a T-shirt.” While it wasn’t necessarily a career highlight, she adds, it did work, and sometimes that’s all you can really ask for. According to drinks writer Taylor Tobin, you can also simply push the cork into the bottle using a Sharpie. Fellow experts Caroline Hatchett and Isabella Newman recommend doing the same with a sturdy tube of mascara.
California spirits pro Drew Record recalls using a colleague’s “very expensive tweezers as an Ah-So on a train from Paris to Reims.” Oddly, there were no French passengers on the train wielding a spare wine key. “I went to work extracting the cork with my colleague’s Tweezerman Ultra Precision tweezers,” he says. “After a few harrowing minutes, we were rewarded with delicious wine. Sadly, the tweezers did not recover.”
4. Long Screw and Hammer
A quick tip from marketing and drinks expert Kirti Dwivedi for making your own corkscrew of sorts: “Screw a really long screw into the cork,” she says. “Use the claw part of a hammer to pull on the screw, and—ta-da!—there’s wine.”
5. Bicycle Pump
Houston bartender Christopher Huang swears by the bike pump method. “Shove the inflator needle all the way through the cork and pump away,” he says. He has tried it himself. “I had a bike pump that I held between my feet, and I just stopped pumping when the cork edged out halfway. It didn't take very many pumps to accomplish the goal either.”
6. Hot Fireplace Tongs and Snow
According to New York City bartender Nick Venditti, you can recreate the port tongs method using hot fireplace tongs and some good old-fashioned snow. “[I] used this at my parents house upstate because there was no corkscrew but there was a wood-burning stove.” he says. “I heated up the tongs until they were red-hot, grabbed the bottle around the neck with them, brought the bottle outside and immediately packed snow around the neck. It cracked evenly at the neck line. I ran it through a funnel and strainer to be safe, but there were no glass shards in it.”