Wednesday, April 20, 2011

When Corkscrews Run Wild

THEY come in all shapes and sizes. Most often, they can be found stuffed into kitchen drawers alongside potato mashers, melon ballers and other seldom-used essentials of the kitchen. Wine lovers take them for granted, except when nobody can find one. Call a Boy Scout! He’s sure to be prepared with a handy multifunction pocket knife that includes one.

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times and the Editors of BizarreStuff

We're talking about corkscrews, which, despite the screw cap, remain indispensable for achieving access to many wines. But would you pay $410 for one? For the overwhelming majority of wines drunk everywhere that's about 51 times more than the cost of the wine. Would you be willing to pay 51 times the cost of an egg for an egg turner?

But eggs don't have the same cachet as wine, nor the same snob appeal. So forking over enough cash for a nice dinner for 4 at a good quality restaurant, including average wines, doesn't seem to phaze some cognoscenti. When people pay hundreds of dollars for a mediocre bottle of mediocre Champagne, why not spring for the Australian Code-38 corkscrew that sells for anywhere from $220 to $410.

So take a look at these beauties and try to decide if any of them are worth foregoing that $220 bottle of Monterrey Valley Talbott you've been lusting for.

In restaurants the world over, sommeliers rely overwhelmingly on a simple, handy device known as the waiter’s friend or, sometimes, as the wine key. Essentially a knifelike handle with a spiral worm for inserting into the cork and a hinged fulcrum for resistance, the waiter’s friend has largely stood the test of time, with modest tweaks and improvements, since it was patented in Germany in 1882. Basic versions go for less than $10.

No product, though, no matter how successful, is immune to the fertile imagination of industrial designers. Enter the Code-38, in which the waiter’s friend is re-engineered, using the highest principles of design and top-flight materials. What does that get you? Not much.

Sure The Code-38 offers the satisfying, solid heft of a fine tool. It feels good in the hand, like a well-balanced kitchen knife, and it inspires a sort of confidence that lasts for about 2 minutes. Then you realize the old lever pull in striking black and brushed chrome made in China your daughter gave you for Christmas 6 years ago, which cost the outrageous price of $29.95, will still do the trick as easily if not more so than the $220 model.

Just to be sure you took the latest tool to your old friend Stanislaw, a restaurateur and wine expert to get a professional opinion. He liked it well enough, especially the way it felt in the hand, but paused when I told him what it cost.

“What, $220?” he said. “That's like paying $200 for a hamburger. It’s like reinventing something that’s already perfect.”

He was quite happy with his waiter’s friend, a French model, the Cartailler-Deluc, which sells for under $30. I think I'll stick with my lever model and my inexpensive waiter's friend, which I think I picked up free at a liquor store, as a backup

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