Opening a mature vintage can present a certain challenge, since the cork can become fragile over time. It would be such a shame to spoil a superb Château Mouton-Rothschild or a 1990 La-Tâche for the sake of a stopper falling into the wine…But there a few things you can do to avoid this disappointment!
The first step is, of course, to go and fetch the bottle in question. We recommend doing this a little while before serving – maybe even the day before – so that you can place the bottle upright for a time. This will cause any deposits that have collected over the years to sink to the bottom, making serving the wine much simpler.
Choose a bottle-opener with a long gimlet
It is possible to open a mature vintage with a classic bottle opener such as a knife-like one sommeliers use. But be careful, it’s better to invest in a bottle-opener with a much longer gimlet (the coil-shaped part you push into the cork). Often, with a classic bottle-opener, the gimlet is not as long as the cork, meaning it doesn’t extend all the way. The risk here is that the cork will break when being pulled out.
Use a bilame
This is the other option. It requires a bit of practice, but once you’ve mastered it this method can get you out of a tricky situation. A bilame is an opener with two blades. One blade is slightly longer than the other, and this should be inserted first, to the side of the cork. Next, insert the second blade to the other side of the cork. Very carefully push the two blades down the sides. Now you should be able to pull the cork out – you can gently twist it round with the opener if this helps it to move. As the cork appears, perhaps use your finger to stabilise it.
Here we have a video demonstration by Camille Blanc, head sommelier of the Georges Blanc restaurant in Vonnas. He opens bottles like this every day, so this is your chance to learn from a master:
What if the cork falls in anyway?
No need to panic, pour the wine carefully into a carafe so that the cork doesn’t affect it. Old bottles don’t like too much aeration, so you shouldn’t wait too long to taste – this shouldn’t be too difficult!