This corkscrew, with a ring that slips over the neck of the bottle, is a big improvement on its predecessor
The world doesn't really need a new corkscrew—any more than I do. I own as many as a small restaurant. But that doesn't stop manufacturers from developing new models that make it a bit easier or a bit more fun to uncork that next bottle. And it doesn't stop oenophiles like me from picking up the new, new corkscrew—in this case, the Vertical Rabbit, a $60 device by Metrokane.
The sleek gadget—my review unit is candy-apple red with a chrome handle—hit stores in September, and is a remake of the award-winning Metrokane Rabbit introduced in 2000. Like the original, the Vertical Rabbit has a lever that users push down to drive a rotating screw or "worm" into the cork, and then pull up to remove the cork. Another down and up of the lever and the cork pops off the screw. Beginning to end, the process takes three seconds.
Metrokane originally borrowed the lever-pull mechanism inside both generations of Rabbits from a Le Creuset corkscrew when that company's patent expired in 1999. Metrokane then hired Pollen Design to create a more ergonomic version (BusinessWeek.com, 8/4/05). The designers rounded the handles and gave them a rubbery skin, making them more pleasant to grip, for instance.
But, ergonomics aside, I was flummoxed when I first encountered the Rabbit years ago. It wasn't at all obvious that you have to first raise the lever, then place the two arms around the neck of the bottle and grip them with one hand as you drive the lever down with the other. Even once it was explained to me it felt awkward, as if I needed a third hand to hold the bottle itself.
Now for semi-professional wine drinkers, the kind who buy Riedel glasses for every varietal and like it that their corkscrew looks like a surgeon's tool, the Rabbit has clear appeal. But it wasn't for me.
The Vertical Rabbit combines the seemingly magical efficiency of the original with a friendlier design. It has just one handle—the lever that spirals the screw down and then pulls it straight up. The arms that clamped around the bottle's neck in the original are replaced by a cylinder that you intuitively know to slide over the bottle's neck. When you grip the cylinder, which you must do before driving the lever down, you are simultaneously gripping the bottle, a design change that makes using the new Rabbit feel much more natural.
The new design also plays up the initially unintended rabbit-like appearance of the original. The Vertical Rabbit stands upright, like a cartoonish rabbit peering out of a hole in the middle of the table, sniffing for a syrah that needs opening.
Smooth and Graceful
I've been testing the Virtual Rabbit for almost a month, and every bottle-opening is a smooth and graceful experience. You still have to know to lift the lever up before you fit the cylinder over the neck, but from there, it's smooth sailing. Press down, and the screw glides into the cork; lift up and the cork slides out. And the screw always goes in straight, even on the second or third bottle of the evening. (I threw a dinner party to test it.)
Nevertheless, I have complaints. I don't like the two-step process: You must remove the foil with a separate cutter before using the corkscrew. And the plastic case that the Vertical Rabbit, the foil cutter, and the spare "worm" arrived in seems wasteful. I see that it's needed to keep the various parts together, but I'd love to see a third-generation Rabbit that incorporates a foil cutter and that includes a mail-in form to order a free replacement worm.
In the meantime, though, I'm ignoring my old corkscrews: my old plastic Screwpull, a couple of versions of the classic waiter's friend, a modernist T-shaped corkscrew from the Museum of Modern Art store that looks better than it works, and even the Lazy Fish—a whimsical update of the ZigZag corkscrew popular in the 1920s. And instead of shipping my Vertical Rabbit back to Metrokane, I'm sending in the $60.