Breaking a cork inside the neck of a bottle when opening wine can be particularly frustrating, especially if there’s a crowd. While this doesn’t happen often (primarily on older bottles where the cork has experienced deep seepage or become dried out and brittle), it’s usually not that hard to stage a strong recovery and remove the rest of the cork without further incident.
The first thing I do is find a corkscrew with the sharpest point. This is because you’re going back in and you want to be able to effectively stab the remaining cork and grab a firm hold without pushing the cork back into the wine (and we’ll cover what to do if that happens too). A sharp corkscrew can make or break this plight.
As carefully as you can, attempt to insert the point of the screw into the cork, looking for the largest remaining surface area to attack. One trick to give you further leverage is to come in at an angle so the pressure being applied by the force of the screw is more towards the sides of the bottle neck, versus straight down on the cork which might lend it to falling in.
If the top of the cork is deep down the neck, it might be harder to come in at an angle, but the more you can use the neck of the bottle to brace the pressure, the higher the likelihood that you’ll get a good grip.
Once you have grip of the cork, screw down until the tip of screw penetrates the bottom of the cork, which you can tell by looking through the sides of the bottle (with all foil removed if you prefer). This is where it can get tricky.
Because the cork has already broken, you know that the remaining portion is going to be weak and likely could break further. So pull it up ever so slightly, twisting gently on the way up to help break it free from the surrounding bottle. The slower the better here as the extra few seconds you spend may be the difference between getting it out cleanly and breaking the rest back down into the wine.
Let’s say you broke the rest of the cork, or for some reason were unable to remove the cork and had to push the rest of it down into the wine. This isn’t the end of the world by any means.
Some handy tools to have at this point are a wine decanter (or pitcher to pour the wine into), a small metal strainer, and a small funnel if you want to pour the wine back into the bottle (although the decanter is preferred). Ikea is a good place to get all of these items for about $10.
Simply pour the wine slowly through the strainer and into the decanter, being careful not to spill of course. The strainer should catch all of the loose cork, and anything that makes it past the strainer will be ok. You can run the wine through twice if you want to be super fancy.
People have used all sorts of different instruments to strain wine like this, but I’ve found a simple metal strainer (and one that’s cleaned very well) is the best route to go.
Follow these tips and you’ll be able to get yourself out of a jam anytime.