March 18, 2006 / Sponsored Content / Red, White, & Bubbly

The Trouble with Corkscrews, Part 1

The Brooklyn Paper
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People have been removing corks from wine bottles for hundreds of years now. Don’t you think that we would have gotten it right by now?

First, though, why cork? Wine needs to be kept inside the bottle, and air needs to be kept out. If oxygen comes into contact with wine, the wine will oxidize, and turn bad. Oxidized wines turn brown and have a sherry-like smell. In ancient times, wine used to come from the winery in large clay vessels called Amphorae.

Wine was topped with a thin layer of olive oil to keep the air out, but this did nothing to prevent spilling. Wax soaked cloth was used, but this was hardly an ideal solution. Technology changed from earthenware to wood, and barrels were used to store and ship wine. The wine was poured out into pitchers or decanters and brought to the table, or sold by the measure by merchants.

Glass was relatively expensive, so the wealthy used their own bottles, often stamped with their initials, family crest or symbol. They sealed these bottles with cork, the inner bark of the cork oak, which grew in Portugal and Spain, dipping the sealed neck of the bottle into wax to preserve it and to keep out burrowing insects.

In the early 1700s glass-blowing technology improved, and bottles could be made cheaply and in great quantities. English wine merchants bottled wines in their shops, sealing them with corks, selling the wine by the bottle. Fraud was not uncommon, and those with a better reputation were able to charge a higher price for their wines.

In the 20th Century, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, owner of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, changed things in the wine world by insisting that he oversee the full production of every bottle of his wine. His wine was bottled at the Chateau, and the cork was branded with the name Mouton, he Baron’s way of insuring the quality of his wine.

To safely and easily remove the cork, we must begin with a good corkscrew: it does not have to be expensive to be good, but it must have a good screw. Look down the corkscrew from the point. The worm, the part that goes into the cork, must look like it was made from a piece of steel that was wrapped around a rod, so that you can actually put a slim skewer or a long toothpick down the middle. This kind of corkscrew will grab the most cork while putting the least amount of steel into the cork. The type that looks like it was made from a steel rod that had the groove cut into it will make dry corks crumble.

Turn the corkscrew until it penetrates the cork to the bottom. This keeps the cork from breaking in half, leaving part of the cork in the bottle. Open the lever on the side, hook it onto the lip of the bottle, and pull the handle up, letting the handle act as a lever.

This paid feature is prepared by Red White & Bubbly,
211 Fifth Ave. (between Union and President streets) in Park Slope. Phone (718) 636-9463.
“Fine wines, great spirits, no attitude!”
Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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