At some point you've probably seen a video of someone opening a wine bottle with a shoe. Tap tap tap and the cork pops up, ready to be pulled out by hand. But is it really so easy? NPR recently gave the technique a try and found it really difficult — what's the deal? I had to try this party trick for myself to find out if it's worth attempting should I ever find myself with a bottle of wine to open and no corkscrew.
The Original Tip
There are tons of videos around the web demonstrating this trick, but the video below is the most popular on YouTube, with nearly 6 million views.
In it, a dapper gentleman places a bottle of wine inside his shoe, bangs it against a wall nine times, and the cork pops up enough for him to gently pull it out with his hand. Looks so easy!
NPR had different results. Their testers had to whack the shoe against the wall and even then, it took many more than nine taps.
The writer of the accompanying article mentions her "arms and stomach muscles were sore for days after banging a bottle of cabernet sauvignon against the wall for 10 to 15 minutes." Which suggests that this method takes quite a bit longer than you might expect, and also that the NPR Science Desk writers are perhaps not the most fit people in the world.
The Testing Method
What the NPR folks lack in brawn, they more than make up for in brains, which they used to get to the bottom of why this method works. According to University of Maryland's James Wallace, the force of hitting the bottle against the wall is transmitted to the wine, which is what pushes out the cork.
"The force moves very rapidly down the liquid, just as it would in a solid," Wallace says. "When a liquid is confined, like the wine in the bottle, it can't flow. So the wine is going to act very much like a solid." And those wine molecules are going to transfer that force all way to the cork, making it pop out.
That means that a very cushioned shoe like a sneaker won't work very well, since the sole will absorb much of the force. And any shoe that doesn't keep the bottom of the bottle pretty much parallel to the wall won't work either, so no high heels.
For my test, I used Rob, my fairly fit husband — I mean, he's no Captain America, but he does CrossFit a few times a week — one of his shoes and a bottle of wine with the foil removed.
Rob placed the bottle inside the shoe and whacked the sole against the wall behind our house. And whacked. And whacked.
"It's not working." He was already in a bad mood because after this, we had to finish assembling an IKEA dresser, his least favorite task in the world.
Whack. Whack. Whack. "I hear something crumbling in the wall." The cork hadn't budged.
"Fine. Let me try." I took the bottle and banged it against the wall nine times, just like the guy in the video. Nothing. Nine more times. Nothing.
At that point I started thinking about how hard I was driving my right hand into the bottle every time I hit it against the wall, and about the first comment on the NPR article:
A good friend of mine absolutely shredded his hand a few years ago when this went wrong. He did it the same way we had done it dozens of times before and the bottle broke while momentum drove his hand down onto the shards. After surgery, he had no use of his right hand for six months and today has no feeling in his pinky. — Keith Burgie
Not too long ago, Rob spent six months going through physical therapy for a hand injury, an experience he hopes to never repeat, and I am currently eight months pregnant. However small the risk of injury, it seemed like a good time to stop.
The cork after 5 minutes of wall-banging
The cork had not moved a centimeter, as far as we could tell. In total, we had spent about 5 minutes banging the bottle against the wall. Perhaps 10 to 15 minutes would have done the trick, but we decided to throw in the towel.
Verdict: This is not a mind-blowing tip.
While it is technically possible to pop out a cork with a shoe, it definitely looks better on YouTube than it does in real life. Instead of whacking a shoe-clad bottle against a wall for 10 to 15 minutes, the smarter option would be using that time to go to a liquor store or grocery store to buy a corkscrew. Your hands will thank you.
Have you ever tried this trick? Did it work for you?
(Image credits: Anjali Prasertong)