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Wax Seals - What Gives? (mini-rant)

Bill Hunt Sep 19, 2007 07:48 PM

Being in advertising, I enjoy and appreciate those “touches of class,” that we find every now and then. BUT, has anyone found an easy way to open the wax-sealed bottles, that look lovely, elegant, but provide a real task, when called upon to pop the cork?

I’d hate to be a sommelier and have to open one of these, in the air, in front of the diners, without making one honking mess. I’ve been working on several cases of Brewer-Clifton and Melville wines lately, and end up with broken wax all over the counter. I’ve scored the wax, at the bottle top line, and tried to “pop” the top, to get the corkscrew into the cork - doesn’t work, as I still have to chip away the wax at the top. I’m thinking of digging out my Port tongs (which I always assumed were more for effect, than practical use), or getting a saber, a la the Champagne opening operation! Just kidding - I’d be afraid of beheading a guest!

With my Ports, the wax is much, much older and is easier to deal with. With these wines, it’s still too pliable, but not enough to remove a scored top.

Any clues, hints, thoughts? Like I said, I end up with a mess on the counter, but if I clean it up a bit, my wife overlooks it, since she really loves the wines.

The wax looks great, but is a bit*h to open - like I said, glad that I’m having to do this above the diners, as they await their wine. I “excused” our sommelier in New Orleans, while he struggled with a btl. of Melville. I felt his pain, and we joked about it, when he came back with the bottle opened.

Mini-rant over,

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  1. Vinny Barbaresco RE: Bill Hunt Sep 19, 2007 07:56 PM

    Screw the worm of the corkscrew directly through the wax and open the bottle as if the wax wasn't there. This method leaves the least mess as the majority of the wax remains on top of the cork.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Vinny Barbaresco
      Frodnesor RE: Vinny Barbaresco Sep 19, 2007 09:01 PM

      This is what Melville recommends for its wax-sealed bottles and I found it worked fine. I use a "ChefMate" lever-style Rabbit-knock-off which I got at Target for about $15 and it pulls the cork through the wax pretty easily.

      1. re: Frodnesor
        Bill Hunt RE: Frodnesor Sep 20, 2007 11:39 AM

        I'll give this one a go. I've not tried any of that type of opener, and worked "through" the wax. My "waiter's friends" did not want to do it, but then I do not have any that are articulated/recheted.


        1. re: Bill Hunt
          Frodnesor RE: Bill Hunt Sep 20, 2007 01:10 PM

          I've never been a fan of many openers other than a "waiter's friend," but this thing has been a solid performer for me, fast, sturdy and cheap as all get-out. Unfortunately I can't find it under that brand name any more, though this one looks an awful lot like it:

    2. CulinaryCutie3 RE: Bill Hunt Sep 19, 2007 08:06 PM

      I would like to 2nd the comment regarding just screwing the corkscrew through the wax. I have never considered the wax a problem.

      1. carswell RE: Bill Hunt Sep 19, 2007 08:12 PM

        Yes, they're a pain and a mess. On the other hand, they're less expensive for the bottler. They're also friendlier to the environment than standard metal -- not to mention lead -- capsules.

        The best way I've found to open wax-sealed bottles is with a waiter's friend corkscrew, preferably not one with a teflon-coated worm (the wax isn't kind to the teflon):
        - Lay a sheet of newspaper on the counter.
        - Set the bottle on the newspaper.
        - Screw into the cork through the wax.
        - Pull the cork most of the way out.
        - Brush the top of lip of the bottle around the corkscrew.
        - Remove the cork by pulling, i.e. not using lever action.

        If I have one handy, I stick a no-drip pourer in the neck. Otherwise, I just pour over the wax on the lip.

        Have never seen a sommelier tackle the problem. Will have to ask a few I know how they handle it.

        8 Replies
        1. re: carswell
          Bill Hunt RE: carswell Sep 19, 2007 08:45 PM

          You see my problem. I've tried with three different "waiter's friends," one with teflon, and two without. I cannot get the cork to come "through" the wax, as it is too thick and tough. Maybe my chainsaw... ?


          1. re: Bill Hunt
            zin1953 RE: Bill Hunt Sep 20, 2007 07:07 AM

            I dunno, Bill -- I've NEVER had a problem getting the cork out . . . waiter's friend, screwpull, with ANY kind of corkscrew . . . . (OK, not an Ah-So).

            1. re: Bill Hunt
              sebi RE: Bill Hunt Sep 20, 2007 11:17 AM

              Hello Hunt,

              I have never had a problem either. One small tip that may help is to warm up the wax top by just wrapping your palm around it (like you would to warm a package of butter at a restaurant).

              The cork should break through the seal as if it were not even there (with a normal corkscrew).

              Been opening my Brewer-Cliftons that way for years...

              1. re: Bill Hunt
                jock RE: Bill Hunt Sep 20, 2007 06:51 PM

                The only reasonable soultion is for me to come over and open them for you and stay for dinner ;)

                1. re: jock
                  Bill Hunt RE: jock Sep 21, 2007 07:33 AM


                  THAT sounds like a plan!

                  I'm gong to dig out all fo the various "Rabbit-style" openers that I have (seems like a half-dozen, at least), try warming the wax with my hand and give the suggestions a go, this weekend. I'll report back with my successes and my failures. One thought I had was to run, just the top of the wax, under my "insta-hot" dispenser to see what happens. If I show up on your doorstep with burns over 80% of my body from boiling wax, you'll know what happened - grin.

                  More on wax seals later,

                  1. re: Bill Hunt
                    zin1953 RE: Bill Hunt Sep 21, 2007 07:40 AM


                    Keep in mind there are also several different KINDS of wax seals. Some are "plasticized," and are quite easy to cut with a knife and then "peel" off. Others are like sealing wax -- indeed they may be sealing wax! -- and they are very brittle. (Think of the wax seals on old bottles of Vintage Porto.)

                    But either way, I've never had the worm of a corkscrew fail to EASILY pierce the wax, nor have I ever had a problem "pulling" the cork through the seal and out.

                    1. re: Bill Hunt
                      jock RE: Bill Hunt Sep 21, 2007 09:14 AM


                      i always prefer a waiter's key. never had a problem pulling the cork through the wax and you can stop with the cork halfway out and knock off any loose pieces before continuing so they don't fall back into the wine. can't do that with a rabbit type. also i usually use a pour disc to stop drips and in the case of wax keep the wine off the wax.

                      btw i hate wax almost as much as i hate corks. screwcaps rock!

                      1. re: jock
                        Bill Hunt RE: jock Sep 21, 2007 09:11 PM

                        OK, gentlemen, you have gotten my attention. This weekend I promise to give it a go.

                        To Jason, at first, I thought that these were "plasticaized," but then they chip far too easily and do not "peel."

                        To Jock, I'll go straight for the cork and report back to you. Otherwise, I'll have to take the wine to the person, who sold it to me [insert a really big grin here], then open and drink it with him.

                        Maybe I have tried to overly complicate things and should have just plunged into the seal. Regardless of the mess, I love the wines, so the chipping has been worth the efforts. Since my wife is also a big fan, she has overlooked my mess in the kitchen - for this I am doubly blessed. I still feel badly for the professionals, who have to do this, in the air, with the clients looking on.

                        We did a half-dozen of these (Chards & PNs) on our trip to NO. Each sommelier appreciated my concern, and my insistance, that they find a firm, flat surface to actually open the bottles, as I trusted them to return with MY wine. Talk about "sighs of relief... "

                        I've had to abstain from wine, for a few days, due to a dental proceedure, but will be back at 100% by the weekend. Reports to follow.


              2. invinotheresverde RE: Bill Hunt Sep 20, 2007 10:42 AM

                I think Hunt is talking about bottles with wax sealed necks, a la Delectus and Belle Glos, not the small wax tabs sometimes found over the cork.

                Man, those really are a pain.

                Sure, it looks pretty. Too bad it takes ten minutes to dig through all that wax. Ugh.

                3 Replies
                1. re: invinotheresverde
                  carswell RE: invinotheresverde Sep 20, 2007 11:10 AM

                  "I think Hunt is talking about bottles with wax sealed necks"

                  So are we. No need to dig.

                  1. re: carswell
                    invinotheresverde RE: carswell Sep 20, 2007 11:21 AM

                    No, I don't think everyone was.

                    If I misread, my apologies.

                    1. re: invinotheresverde
                      zin1953 RE: invinotheresverde Sep 20, 2007 01:43 PM

                      Well, I know I was . . .


                2. Bill Hunt RE: Bill Hunt Oct 7, 2007 07:20 PM

                  First, let me thank all who commented on this "problem." I appreciate the tips from the folk, who said "just use your waiter's-friend and pretend that the wax seal is not there... " or similar. Well, I had a bottle of the Brewer-Clifton Rio Vista '05 PN tonight, and hit the wax with the "instant hot" for a moment. Grabbed my older waiter's friend corkscrew and guess what? The cork came right THROUGH the wax. Neatly! Who knew? Well, some of you did, and now, I do, as well.

                  How perfect, vs. chipping away at at big gob of wax and the resultant mess. Mini-rant is now officially over. The "instant hot" did not affect the temp of the wine at all, and the operation was a roaring success.

                  Your thoughts and comments are greatly appreciated,

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