What to do if your wine cork breaks or crumbles – ask Decanter
‘If a cork disintegrates and falls back into the bottle, the simplest solution is to filter the wine through a fine mesh – either cheesecloth or a sieve, depending on how small the pieces of cork are,’ said Julia Sewell, who was previously sommelier at The Fat Duck and has also worked at Noble Rot and Hide.
‘It’s important to consider the age of the wine and the speed at which you will drink it.’
‘The filtration process can speed up the oxidation of a very old wine and it may be better to filter such a wine directly into the glass, rather than decanting it first.’
Can you still drink the wine?
In most cases the wine will still be fine to drink, as it should have still maintained a seal on the bottle.
‘There is not a universal rule, but our experience says that the wine maintains the quality for being served,’ said Guillermo Cruz, head sommelier at Mugaritz.
‘But at Mugaritz, we would always explain that the cork has crumbled when we serve the wine.’
Occasionally a crumbling cork may mean that the quality has been compromised, but ‘it’s best to reserve judgement until you have tasted the wine,’ said Sewell.
‘Some of best bottle of wines I have tasted have had the worst cork condition,’ said Clement Robert MS, head sommelier and wine buyer at 28-50 wine bars.
How can you prevent the cork crumbling?
‘If you’re in the habit of opening older bottles of wine, it’s best to invest in a two-prong wine opener, which can save you a lot of time dealing with fragile corks,’ said Sewell.
‘However, some corks just won’t keep their integrity, no matter how careful you are.’
A two-pronged opener is also known as a ‘butler’s thief’ cork remover, or a ‘wiggle-and-twist’.
‘It’s essentially a handle with two flat metal prongs attached, sprung so that when you work them (cautiously) down the sides of a cork that looks/feels like it may crumble or be pushed down into a bottle under a regulation corkscrew, they apply some inward pressure to your dodgy cork,’ said Decanter’s David Longfield, in the latest issue of the magazine.
‘Once you’ve persuaded the prongs far enough down – start with the longer of the two, and use a slight lateral motion as you progress, rather than pressing directly down – that pressure enables you then (the theory goes) to begin pulling up while rotating the cork out of the bottle neck. ‘
‘If a cork’s condition is bad enough, it may still break, in which case give it another go, gently.’
‘You may have to concede and push the rest of the cork down into the bottle – use the handle end of a teaspoon, and go slowly, to avoid wine spurting up out of the bottle!’
It’s an inexpensive fallback option, and a great stocking filler, said Longfield – City Wine Collection, Hedonism, Topnote Design and Wineware all stock them.
‘If you don’t have a two-prong bottle opener, then try again very slowly with your screw-pull, pulling very slowly.’ Robert MS
And what if the cork breaks in the bottle?
This will be less likely to happen if using the right opener, and you can try using a two prong one with a regular one to get the cork out, recommended Sewell.
‘Try using the sharp end of the corkscrew in the cork and try to remove it – but it has to be done really carefully, ’ said Cruz.
‘However, the simplest solution – if you are unable to remove the broken half of the cork – is to push the cork all the way into the wine and serve as normal,’ said Sewell.
Written May 2018 and updated with more comments in December 2020.