Magnums and other large format bottles of wine can really kick your party up a notch. When most people see a magnum (1.5 liter bottle of wine, twice the amount in a regular 750ml bottle), they get excited. Due to the sheer volume of wine, magnums are not for everyday and are opened when serving a crowd.
Many larger format bottles have waxed tops, which can intimidate the novice magnum opener. Wineries wax their bottles tops for a number of reasons. A bottle dipped in wax usually means it’s a very special bottle of wine. Extra care was taken to seal the bottle, above and beyond the usual foil capsule. From the winery’s prospective, it’s generally easier to do this than to order a small quantity of oversized foil capsules. Besides, if a wine lover or collector is buying a costly bottle, it’s important that it look more expensive and extraordinary than the usual, run of the mill bottle of wine.
The easiest method to open a magnum is to force the tip of the screw (or worm) of a Waiter’s Corkscrew through the center of the wax and into the middle of the cork. A double-hinged corkscrew is equipped with a longer screw mechanism and will make short work of the task. Once you’ve drilled down into the cork, open as you would a regular bottle. The initial tug as you begin the process of ratcheting the cork up and out of the bottleneck will crack the wax seal. If the wax cracks in fragments, wipe the top of the bottle before completely removing the cork in order to avoid wax in your fine wine.
If the magnum is of an older vintage, it’s possible that the cork has become brittle and will crumble as a Waiter’s Corkscrew penetrates it. If you believe this might be the case, you’ll need a more sophisticated set of tools. This technique also works well on larger format bottles such as those holding 3, 5 and more liters of wine.
First you’ll need to remove the wax top from the magnum bottle. Using a serrated knife, saw into the wax ¼ inch below the bottle top. Spin the bottle slowly as you feel the knife cut through to the glass. Once you’ve cut completely around the bottle, carefully slip the top of your knife into the slit you’ve cut and push upward. This should allow you to begin peeling the wax top away like you would the skin off an apple.
Once you’ve removed the wax from the bottle top and wiped away any wax bits, use a Two-pronged wine opener, also known as a Butler’s Friend or Ah-So opener. This type of corkscrew does not have a screw (or worm) but rather two flat metal prongs that are wedged between the cork and the bottle. Often called the Butler’s Friend, it’s said that dishonest butlers used this device to open bottles of fine wine, remove their contents, then add mediocre wine back into the bottle and reinsert the original cork. Their masters would be none the wiser that they were drinking less than fine wine.
Opening a bottle this way requires a little practice so hopefully you’ve tried this on a few regular wine bottles first. Insert the longer prong along the side of the cork and give a little wiggle. Then do the same thing with the second prong.
Very gently continue to wiggle the prongs down the sides of the cork. If the cork begins to move, simply grip the prongs and cork in your hand and carefully twist the prongs deeper into the bottle. Once you’ve gotten the prongs fully imbedded, slowly twist and pull using the handle. Practice makes perfect with this kind of opener. Once you’re confident with the two-pronged opener, it may become your favorite way to open wine. And don’t be surprised if our guests exclaim, “Ah, so that’s how you use that!”