Before you can drink a bottle of wine, you have to get it open. Whether you succeed or fail at that mission depends on your equipment. Especially with old and rare wines, your choice of corkscrew can make the difference between pulling the cork out in one piece and fishing it out in a million bits. But even with younger wines with hearty new corks, it's far more pleasurable -- and less exhausting -- to open them with a good corkscrew. Over the past twenty years, I've tried more than 200 corkscrews, and I believe the following three stand out. But whatever corkscrew you buy, please try to find one with a hollow-core worm (the metal spiral that does the actual work). That is to say, if you look at the spiral dead on, pointing the tip toward your eye, it should have a hollow center. Solid-core corkscrews are too rough on even the sturdiest corks. And, when you open a bottle, place the corkscrew in the exact center of the cork and keep it very straight as you twist. Then gently ease the cork out, millimeter by millimeter, and you'll be uncorking bottles flawlessly in no time.
Sommelier by Laguiole
Laguiole (pronounced "lah-yole") is a small mountain village in south-central France where artisans hand-forge some of the world's finest cutlery. You have probably seen Laguiole knives, with their colorful resin-impregnated handles and Napoleon bee emblem on the bolster, at fine restaurants in France, and just about everybody in Europe owns a Laguiole folding pocketknife. But the greatest Laguiole product, in my opinion, is this wonderful corkscrew, which will last for years. It has a built-in curved foil cutter, a sharp, thin, flexible worm and the whole thing folds up so you can keep it in your pocket at a party or a picnic.
Screwpull by Le Creuset
Known as the manufacturer of the world's best enameled cast-iron cookware, Le Creuset branched out into corkscrews a few years back and is now the top mass-producer of wine-opening tools. The Screwpull is perfect in almost every respect: The thin Teflon-coated worm has a tiny groove along its spiral that allows bits of cork to channel out of the way, thus decreasing resistance. The entire opening process occurs while twisting in one direction -- you don't have to stop in the middle and switch to a lever mechanism (it's simple physics, but you'll watch fascinated the first few times). And the $20 price tag is an added bonus. Only drawback: It's not portable, and doesn't have an integrated foil cutter (a portable model is available, but it's not as good). Available at Zabar's.
Screwpull lever model by Le Creuset
The Screwpull lever is the ultimate wine-opening tool for anybody who wants to enter a bottle-opening race. With a single, quick lever motion, this device drills down through the cork and extracts it in a fraction of a second. Still, it's an unwieldy contraption, hardly worth hauling out for just one bottle (though I hear it's a godsend for those with arthritis), and I don't recommend it for rare bottles with fragile corks (I've seen this monster butcher some older corks). But if you're throwing a party and need to open several cases of wine, this tool is going to be your new best friend.