How do I open a bottle of wine?

The first step, after choosing your wine, is to remove the end of the capsule, which hides the cork. It is not necessary to remove the whole capsule. Take a knife and slit carefully round the top, just above the ridge on the bottle neck. This allows you to pop off the top of the capsule neatly. Capsules on some of the older red wines may still be made of lead, but almost all modern capsules are made of less toxic materials - plastic, tin or aluminium foil.

The main purpose of the capsule is decorative, it hides the cork and the fact that the level of wine in each bottle may not be exactly the same.

Having removed the capsule, wipe carefully round the mouth of the bottle to remove any foreign matter. You can now withdraw the cork.

Corkscrews come in a bewildering variety of shapes and designs; some good and others frankly bad. When selecting a corkscrew, look for one with a wire spiral, rather than the auger type with a solid centre. If the cork is tight-fitting, the auger-type corkscrew tends to gouge a hole through the centre of the cork, and still leave it behind in the bottle. If the cork is old then it makes the cork crumble. The spiral type is better because it winds itself around and inside the cork and gets a good grip on a lot of the material.

Some designs of corkscrew incorporate some method of providing leverage, so the cork can be pulled without effort.

The Waiter’s Friend is one of these. It has a small leg which rests on the rim of the bottle while the lever handle is lifted.

The Screwpull features a teflon-coated spiral and arms that grip the bottle neck.

For old and damaged corks you can use the Butler’s Friend which has two thin spring blades that slide down the sides of the cork and all you to twist and lift it out without damaging it.

Once the cork is out, take a good look at it. It can provide useful clues about the condition of the wine. It should be moist for only part of its length. If the wine has seeped all the way to the end, it could indicate a problem.

Sniff the cork. It should smell clean and pleasant. A mouldy smell could be a sign that the wine is ‘corked’. This does not mean the cork has crumbled. Or that there are bits and pieces of it floating around in the wine. It means the cork has developed a fungus and this has tainted the wine. The wine smells of musty old rags.