Originally wine bottles were covered with a lead capsule that protected the cork from mice and insects. This cover was removed prior to inserting the corkscrew by using a knife to cut away the soft lead. This is tradition of cutting away the capsule why some corkscrews have a knife combined in their handle.
Obviously, as we discovered that lead is toxic to ingest, the capsule material was changed. The three most popular covers are wax, a metal foil and a heat shrunk plastic. And since we have less of an issue of infestation of rodents and insects the foil capsules are really more of a nod to tradition and a matter of aesthetics. Some may also consider it to be a technique for tamper proofing.
The foil cutter was originally designed to make a clean slice through the thin metal foil. Some cutters are evolving to work on the plastic capsules as well- though most of these will pull right off. Most cutters have small blades or wheel embedded within their housing that cut the foil as you squeeze the cutter and twist it a half turn or so.
There are several reasons as to why you should use a foil cutter. The cutter lease a nice clean edge at the lip of the bottle. This prevents making a mess through spillage or dripping induced by a ragged torn edge. This also tends to be a safety factor because the foil can be sharp if left as a torn edge. By using the cutter, you prevent cutting your fingers. One more benefit from having a clean edge is that the foil will not taint the wines flavor, where it might be if it is poured over the metallic foil.
It is a bad idea to use the point of a corkscrew to tear the foil off, as this can severely dull the point and make the corkscrew less effective. One exception to the rule is when the capsule is mode of wax. The wax tends to be a bit tough and can be difficult to remove. Really one of the best ways to open a bottle with a wax cover is to simply insert the corkscrew into the top of the cork through the wax. As you pull the cork out, the wax will peel away. If you are using this method you may want to pause when the cork is about half way out and brush off any bits of wax around the mouth of the bottle. This way you will avoid getting particles in your wine.
Foil cutters can range in cost from as low as $2 and up to and exceeding $40 depending on the quality and material of the cutter. You can get them as a separate item or in combination sets. Most wine sets will include a foil cutter as well as a few other items like stoppers and corkscrews.
Some things that you should consider when purchasing a foil cutter are comfort, durability, aesthetics, and functionality. Cutters come in all sizes and shapes so find one that fits comfortably in your hand and is easy for you to use. Most are made from a hard plastic or stainless steel and some have a wood housing cover. Find one that looks good sitting on your wine bar. There are some quite beautiful foil cutters out there for nearly any style preference. The most critical thing to look for is that it cuts well. Try to find one with 3-4 blades or cutting wheels. These tend to cut a little easier when twisting the cutter.
So, now that you know so much about foil cutters, go find a good one and use it the next time you crack open a bottle of wine! These little things make great gifts for friends too, just tie it to a bottle with a nice ribbon and give it to a friend.
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