Debates over wine openers tend to hinge (ha) on one main comparison: the classic double-hinged corkscrew, often simply referred to as a wine key or a waiter’s corkscrew, versus, well, everything else. The simple wine key is considered the superior tool by most sommeliers, preferable to a “butterfly” or winged corkscrew (the kind with two arms) or quick-fix gadgets like the Rabbit.
But for the wine drinkers who are opening bottles with a bit of age on them, there is an additional opener worth having when the near-infallible wine key wont cut it: an ah-so. Perhaps the simplest tool of all, an ah-so has two flat, thin prongs that, when inserted into the neck of the bottle, hug the cork on either side to extract it.
“An ah-so is ideal for older bottles, which may have corks that are breaking down,” says wine pro Derrick Westbrook of Chicago, curator of this month’s Eater Wine Club wines. “It’s saved my life many times in the restaurant when opening a 30- or 40-year-old bottle.”
The ah-so’s main purpose is those bottles with some age (think at least 30 years), since over time a bottle’s cork will begin to break down and become brittle. When this happens, inserting a corkscrew down the center will cause the cork to split in half or crumble into pieces. (This is why bottles are often stored in humid cellars and lying on their sides — the wine stays in contact with the cork to keep it moist.) Likewise, if even a young cork splits in half when using a corkscrew leaving part of the cork in the bottle, switching to the ah-so is your best bet since carrying on with a wine key again might just push the cork into the bottle.
The Monopol Westmark Germany ah-so is particularly beloved by sommeliers and is an easy go-to for Westbrook. As another option there’s the Durand, higher in price perhaps because it does double duty with an old-fashioned screw plus a set of two blades that resemble an ah-so.