The products I usually test in this space, as you know, are the reds and the whites that come out of a bottle. But the other day, when I received an e-mail query about trying out a new wine gadget, I said to myself, why not?
A few days later, when the Oster Inspire Electric Wine Opener arrived, I couldn’t wait to use it, even though there is something about the idea of an electric corkscrew — actually several things — that run against conventional and traditional thinking about wine.
First, there’s the perceived simplicity and purity of turning a corkscrew into a cork and extracting the closure. It takes a little work. But at the end there’s a feeling of something accomplished, to be rewarded by what will flow from the bottle. Then there’s the sound — ah, the sound of the pop of a cork. Doesn’t it announce that the evening is about to begin? That good food, wine, conversation and even, perhaps, romance are in store?
On these counts the Oster Inspire Electric Wine Opener cannot compete with conventional corkscrews. There is nothing even remotely sexy about this wand-like device that looks like a cross between a flashlight and a hair dryer. I’m sure others will make their own comparisons.
But here’s the thing. When I put this $19.99 contraption to the test the other night, it opened a bottle (the lovely and accessible 2003 Shiraz from the Thelema Mountain Vineyards Winery in South Africa) so easily that it almost took my breath away. Ditto the next night with the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon from Smith-Madrone in California’s Napa Valley, at $35 one of the best cabs I’ve tasted all year, and two more bottles.
What’s involved? First (after charging the device for eight hours), you take the foil cutter that comes with the opener and is conveniently stored on the charging stand and cut away the tip of the wrapper atop the neck of the bottle, which neatly exposes the cork. Then, you place the bottom of the opener (you can see the corkscrew inside) over the top of the bottle and, holding the bottle with one hand and the opener with the other, press the button.
Your little machine goes to work. As the instructions accurately describe it, "The corkscrew spiral will turn in a clockwise direction and enter the cork, then gradually remove it from the bottle. When the electric wine opener mechanism has stopped, the cork has been fully removed from the bottle."
That really is it. The extraction takes less than 10 seconds and is almost effortless. Pressing the upper part of the switch will make the concealed corkscrew turn counter-clockwise and release the cork from inside the appliance.
It is, I have to confess, slightly disconcerting after years of conditioning not to feel the energy and release of a cork being pulled from a bottle. But an inspection of the corks it pulled out revealed that the screw had met its targets with almost dead-on accuracy. With a conventional corkscrew, even the most experienced wine hands will find themselves occasionally breaking through the sides of a cork, or worse.
The Oster Electric Wine Opener seems to eliminate that risk. And if you can get beyond the ritual and romance of the traditional corkscrew and think you can live with a few seconds of the hum of a motor instead of the pop of a cork, I think you’ll find this a welcome addition to your kitchen counter or wine bar. I’m told it’s available at Costco, Fred Meyer, Hecht’s, Filene’s and Famous Barr stores.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at EdwardDeitch