How to make sure an old wine cork doesn't fall apart

We had a special dinner last week and opened a 1998 Bordeaux we'd been saving. As I drove my Waiter's Friend corkscrew into the cork, I felt very little resistance. Then, tragedy: what came out was the top half of the cork and the crumbled core of the bottom half. I spent the next fifteen minutes failing to extract the cork, then filtering the wine through a fine mesh strainer. We still had bits of cork in our glasses. That cork disintegrated.

Sometimes you're just unlucky, right? And there's nothing you can do about it? Not so. You can tell when you're dealing with a weak cork and use a different tool: the two-pronged opener known as the Butler's Friend or Ah-So. Polling my friends with more experience in old wines, I learned that that lack of resistance as you drive in the corkscrew is the telltale sign of a weak cork. I drink mostly young wines, so I'm used to really having to twist. In fact, I can't recall ever having a cork crumble on me. So here's what you do.
  • If you're opening a bottle 10 or more years old, pay attention.
  • If the conventional corkscrew goes in too easy, unscrew it back out again.
  • Open it with the two-pronged cork puller.
Here's how to use it: push in one prong a little bit, then the other, rocking the tool back and forth until both prong tips are past the bottom of the cork. (Don't try to push both prongs down at the same time or you may push the cork into the bottle.) Once the tool is far enough in, twist and pull without rocking to break loose the cork from the glass and extract it.

This short YouTube video demonstrates the technique. Enjoy your well aged wine!