If you’ve caught the wine bug hard, the need to purchase a Laguiole corkscrew may have set in. You may already own one. Simply put, they’re the most elegant (and expensive) way to open a bottle of wine. And now that the reality-based wine community is clamoring for the end of cork in favor of screwcaps, why not make the best of this dying tradition?
There’s definitely not a small amount of confusion surrounding Laguiole corkscrews. For one thing, there’s the pronunciation. Officially, it’s pronounced [lah-yole] by the locals but most French speakers will say [la-gwee-ole]. Perhaps a little like the way Houston Street is pronounced [how-ston] in New York City. However, most of the confusion – and commercial chicanery – arises from the fact that Laguiole is not actually a brand name but simply a town in the south of France known for its high quality cutlery, knives and corkscrews. Unfortunately for them, the name was not trademarked so there's no restriction on its use, which means a Laguiole corkscrew can come from anywhere in France (or China or Pakistan for that matter!).
The most important part of buying a Laguiole is finding the real deal. We’ll take a detailed look at the two most famous Laguiole corkscrews, Château Laguiole and Forge de Laguiole as well as a low end Laguiole product.
First a short history, and the key word here is short. Although there’s a long tradition of Laguiole knife making dating back to the early 19th century, the designs of the classic Laguiole corkscrews we covet aren’t even 20 years old! The folding knife that made Laguiole famous first appeared in 1829 and was produced by blacksmiths for the local rural population. As popularity grew, mass production became necessary, with manufacture shifting 100 miles northwest to the larger town of Theirs. Laguiole resisted industrialization so that by 1981, all production of their famous knives was done in Theirs. Around this time some local businessmen set up an initiative to bring production back to its namesake town. In 1988, two forging mills were built – La Coutellerie de Laguiole and Forge de Laguiole – in Laguiole (La Coutellerie’s corkscrews aren’t widely available, so I don’t cover them here).
Château Laguiole A year before either mill was set up; sommelier Guy Vialis introduced his famous Château Laguiole corkscrew. It was and still is produced in Theirs; a classic design with the recognizable markings of traditional Laguiole cutlery, including the traditional bee. Some say that the bee is actually a fly, signifying the bane of local shepherds, as the surrounding area is known for its cows. Naturally, this version of the story is not popular locally. The official explanation is that Napoleon Bonaparte's imperial seal – the bee – was offered to the town of Laguiole as a token of his gratitude for their soldier’s courage in numerous battles. Some also insist that since the Château Laguiole is not made in the town of Laguiole, it’s not authentic. The reality is that most authentic Laguiole products have been made in Theirs for a very long time. The Château Laguiole is the one you’ll see at most sommelier competitions as they produce editions of their corkscrew commemorating winners of the World’s Best Sommelier Award given by the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale. The one pictured here is an update on the original called the Grand Cru. $109
Forge de Laguiole This is the only corkscrew made entirely in the town of Laguiole in a very stylish factory designed by Philippe Starck. The Forge de Laguiole corkscrew introduced in 1995 and is also very stylish and sleek (although not designed by Stark). It’s nearly devoid of any of the traditional markings except for a small cross on one side of the casing. Early Laguiole knives also had this marking; with the blade stuck in a piece of bread, the cross formed a makeshift chapel for the local shepherds. It feels more solid and smooth in the hand than the Château Laguiole and its boot lever is finely integrated into the overall design. It looks more expensive and is. $137.50
Low-end Laguiole Also know as Forgery de Laguiole or Shanty Laguiole, this is one to avoid. I purchased one in a regrettable Ebay moment (woo-hoo! a $40 Laguiole). Like most things that seem to be too good to be true it was. Two small chunks of wood are slapped on both sides of a cheap metal corscrew in a desperate attempt to make it look fancy. So instead of a bargain, it’s a rather expensive piece of junk. The name Laguiole here is no indication of quality. $40
|Foil Cutter||Corkscrew||Bee||Bottle Opener||If I were a car. . .|
|Château Laguiole||serrated knife||grooved for easy insertion||classic||part of boot lever||classic Mercedes Benz|
|Forge de Laguiole||serrated and radiused||grooved for easy insertion||minimalist||part of the foil cutter||new Aston Martin|
|Cheap Laguiole||serrated knife||grooved for easy insertion||deformed||part of bent boot lever||Ford Pinto|
So which one is better? Obviously not the junky one, but they all do a decent job opening a bottle of wine; the determining factor here is not function but style. The final decision comes down to which design you prefer: the classic and traditional Château Laguiole or the sleek and stylish Forge de Laguiole.
Buying a Laguiole corkscrew: After you’ve made a decision on the style you like, the most important part is finding a reputable dealer, which is the only way to insure that you’re not buying a cheap counterfeit.