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Choosing a wine opener

Many would agree that sipping a glass of wine is one of life's most relaxing pleasures, so isn't it ironic that uncorking a wine bottle can send your blood pressure through the roof? There's nothing more annoying than wrestling with a corkscrew, unless it's watching the cork shred apart and having to retrieve the little bits that tumble into the bottle.

Fortunately, it doesn't have to be this way. More and more manufacturers are introducing better-engineered wine openers that are more reliable than previous models and require less effort to use. Many also sport sleek designs and better materials.

One popular kind of wine opener is a lever style, which works very simply: Press down on a lever and a coiled metal rod -- also referred to as a spiral, worm or screw -- is driven into the cork. Pulling the lever back up removes the cork from the bottle, and repeating the push-pull action releases the cork from the spiral. However, reviewers say lever-style wine openers can break over time and are expensive compared to other manual openers, starting at about $20 and costing up to $100 or more.

Electric wine openers are motorized, battery-powered alternatives that generally come with a recharging base so they're always ready to use. Their fans find them easy to operate, but keep in mind that they're typically designed to be stored on a countertop and not in a drawer. These are fairly economical small appliances, generally running $20 to $40, although some cost about $100.

A typically less expensive option is the basic corkscrew, which combines a metal worm with a handle that's twisted to drive the screw into the cork, then manipulated to remove the cork from the bottle. They require varying degrees of muscle to use. Basic corkscrews can be as cheap as a dollar or two, but can cost $30 or more if they're made of high-quality materials, have a cool design or are engineered to require less effort.

The popular waiter-style corkscrew that's prevalent in restaurants has one or two hinged braces that fit against the rim of the bottle, increasing leverage to help make cork extraction easier. Other common corkscrew types include T-shaped styles that look like the letter "T" and winged versions with two handles that rise as the worm makes its way into the cork.

There are other alternatives, as well. A pronged opener has two slim prongs that slip between the cork and the bottle. While some like its unusual appearance and say it's good for removing old and brittle corks, others find that it can take patience to master. Pronged openers run from about $5 to $25. With a pump cork extractor, air or gas is blasted through the cork and into the bottle, and the increased pressure forces the cork out. Some reviewers like the novelty, but others say pump openers aren't that easy to use and can be dangerous. In 2011, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled the Sunbeam Air Pump Wine Opener NBSKWA2600 because of a laceration hazard caused by wine bottles breaking due to the action of the opener.

Many wine openers come with foil cutters that are used to remove the capsule, or the sleeve that covers the top and neck of a wine bottle. To add to your drinking pleasure, you may want to consider purchasing a wine aerator, a device with air holes that transfers wine from the bottle to the glass. Many aficionados say an aerator can improve the taste of any wine.

To determine the top-rated products for this report, analyzes expert and owner reviews of wine openers, corkscrews and aerators, paying particular attention to performance and ease of use. Our research is comprehensive, taking into account multiple professional, comparative test results, expert evaluations, and user ratings and comments on retail and opinion-based websites.

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