How to open a wax-topped Armagnac bottle (and not lose your mind)

Yes, apparently a primer on how to open Armagnac bottles actually is needed.

I’ve been working on a review column for Wine Enthusiast magazine focused on Armagnac, the famed French brandy (yet, not as famed as Cognac). Usually, I’m pretty well focused on what’s IN the bottle, not the bottle itself. But the (quite substantial) review pile included eight bottles firmly capped with hard wax. No string or other pull cord to help start a strip to remove the wax, and even sharp scissors and hardscrabble fingernails removed only the tiniest portion of wax. How the heck was I going to evaluate the goods if it was like Fort Knox to get in?

Photo: End of Day 1

I vented my frustration on Twitter, and received some helpful suggestions:

@DeliaCabe: Thin wire, like the kind used to slice cheese. How about a wine foil cutter? X-acto knife?

@Virginia_Made: Corkscrew through the wax. When you pull up the wax will tear open.

@Ponchartrain_Pete: Hulk smash? Try butter knife to chip it off.

The corkscrew seemed like a viable idea – it works with wax-topped wines all the time. So I brought my corkscrew to the office and tried. Turns out, there’s a plastic cap under the wax, so I made a couple of gouges, but no further headway.

Photo: end of Day 2 (corkscrew gouge)

I vented on Twitter again. Replies this time veered from sympathetic to sublimely ridiculous (which I welcomed — at this point I needed a laugh!)

@NeilKopplin: Samurai Sword?

@boozedancing: How about a Sabre then? You know. Like they do with champagne. 🙂

At this point, I also emailed my editors back at Wine Enthusiast. That tells you how desperate I truly was:  I’d like my employers to believe that I am competent enough to open a bottle (surely that’s the absolute bare minimum for doing my job, yes?). Luckily, Wine Enthusiast’s Tasting Director Lauren Buzzeo was cool-headed enough to suggest that I reach out to one of the Armagnac producers and ask how to open the bottles without damaging them. Christine Cooley of Heavenly Spirits, an importer of  various Armagnac brands, provided this helpful reply:

Honestly, depending where I find myself, I just gently bang the top of the bottle against a metal table foot or on a cement floor, or I also take a metal corkscrew and hit the wax gently until it breaks and chips, then I clean the wax and blow on it to ensure that no wax or wax dust can enter the bottle. In the bars, they usually put the top of the bottle under the espresso steamer and the wax softens enough so the bartender can cut it with a knife.

While I don’t have an espresso steamer handy at my office, I tried the “bang-it” method on Day 3 – and it worked! Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Score the edge of the wax with a sharp knife.

Step 2: Gently bang the wax-covered bottle against a metal object (here, the edge of a stainless steel sink).

Step 3: Use a knife to loosen any remaining pieces of wax.


Now – what really baffled me was the bottles with SCREW CAPS beneath the wax – see below. WTF?????

So – was it worth all the effort to break through the hard wax coverings? For the most part, yes — many of these turned out to be some of the best Armagnacs I had the opportunity to sample. However, I would have enjoyed the brandy just as much with an ordinary cork or other closure that didn’t require crowd-sourcing to open. 

(P.S., the Wine Enthusiast issue with the Armagnac ratings drops at the end of December.)

35 thoughts on “How to open a wax-topped Armagnac bottle (and not lose your mind)

    • Thank you for this. It was valuable to know I was not alone in this. After struggling for a couple of days with what seemed to be cement cap, and wanting very badly to try my new ‘find’ but not damage it [or me], I warmed a paper towel, held it to the wax cap to soften the wax enough to score, scored the wax cap, and knocked the cap lightly on the counter. This was enough to loosen and remove the wax.

      The warming process was key in my case, as the wax was exceedingly hard. However, the warming was mild and done quickly. I simply warmed a paper towel and held it around the cap for a few seconds, scored a portion of he cap, and repeated the process a few timed until made it all the way around the cap.

      • So clever of you to figure that out! Thanks for sharing that -i think i’m going to try warming up the wax next time.

  1. Yo Kara!

    Ha! That was good fun. Glad to see that you were finally able to crack those puppies open.

    Just one question: Am I one of the “sublimely ridiculous” ones? If so, I’m flattered! Though I am rarely sublime, I am usually quite ridiculous.


    • I have to agree, a little warmth fro a micro waved moistened bar towel might expedite things a little? I have had similar tops from St.John, only the innards in question was the Demon Rhum!
      Maybe needs to be more wax, less artificial?

    • Thanks for the feedback! Happy I was able to educate and amuse. That was definitely a bit of adventure.

      There’s a bit of addendum, too: after this was posted, I had the opportunity to meet one of the producers who uses wax tops (Delord), and put in my plea to make some changes, please! No dice. They are committed to the old tradition, even if it baffles American drinkers.

  2. Advice much very appreciated. Think the “wax” is traditional sealing wax–used exactly as intended: a seal made with it cannot be broken without the tampering being obvious. Now I must sweep up the rest of the red crumbs.

  3. Just bought my first bottle of Delord Napoleon, and thought you might like to know that this page is the top result after desperately googling “delord armagnac how to open bottle”. There are fine blue chips all over my sink after trying almost everything on my multitool. Warming the wax sounds smart.

  4. THANK YOU for the great tip!! My husband brought home this 25 yrs. old Delord and we were dying to taste. I have opened hundreds of wine bottles with wax seal and have never encountered such problem. This one was a serious pain in the behind. I did score the wax first but applying heat did not help at all. Finally turned to the web and found your post. The light tapping on the edge of my kitchen sink did the job. The scored area started chipping off easily.

  5. An electric hair dryer on high for a minute or so will soften the “wax” and permit you to cut right through it all ’round. Then the top portion peals off easily. May need to do a second round to clean up the edges for a clean pour. No banging necessary.

  6. Ok, granted my method herein takes a steady hand, but I wound-up with a cleanly opened bottle with little mess (no heat required). I did this with a bottle of Bas Armagnac Napoleon DeLord. Lay the bottle on its side on a folded dish towel, on top of a flat, very steady table top. Have the neck facing your dominant hand (i.e., to the right if you’re right handed). Hold the bottle firmly with your non-dominant hand. Take a very sharp serrated knife (must be serrated and quite sharp) and score the wax at the break-line between the bottle and the cork cap (about 1/4 inch from the top). Use a sawing motion with the blade and medium pressure (not too hard). Watch your fingers!! You’re not trying to cut all the way through – just score the wax about 1/32 inch deep. Rotate the bottle slowly as you saw the wax to make the score line go all the way around the cap. Lots of blue wax chips will fall away. Wipe off any remaining blue chips then stand the bottle upright. Take the dish towel and wrap a single layer around the cap. Grab the bare bottle and grabbing the cap through the dish towel, give the cap a mighty twist. The wax will break along the score line and the cap will come cleanly out. Be sure to wipe off all the blue chips before fully removing the cork cap or they might fall in the bottle. Enjoy!

  7. Scored the wax where the cap is, then rotated the wax undeta steaming kettle spout for about twenty seconds. Took a knife to the score and went through like butter. Cap still has wax on it and absolutely no speckles of wax in the bottle or on the counter top…

  8. Simplest method: nuke a mug of water until boiling hot. Invert bottle so seal is immersed for a minute. Take a paring knife and cut through seal at top of glass. Pry up slightly to create gap, then leave alone until cool. No muss, no fuss!

  9. I use a Swiss Army pocket tool and use the saw to out a deep score in the wax on the bottles of DeLord and Marie Duffau I’ve bought. Then I can twist the stopper. The down side is a bunch of flakes of wax. A hot wire might work to melt a groove into the wax that would be easy to break. I wonder how wine stewards handle this.

  10. I googled this and ran into your article. I brought home a 10 year DeLord Napoleon. If it wasn’t for your article, I probably would have broken the cap with a screwdriver and /or ended up stabbing myself! Your article gave me the idea to run it under hot tap water and it worked! Thank you! I loved the Armagnac! I am usually an Islay Scotch drinker but am now adding this to my choices!

    Cheers and thank you!

  11. Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you! A trip to the emergency room caused by the knife in my husband’s hand would have ruined that wonderful experience!

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