The Everything Guide to the Corkscrew
Like a drill or a spatula, you probably don’t think very much about the corkscrew except when it fails you. But remember, using this device is the first step in your amazing wine journeys. So, shouldn’t it hold a little more beauty and excitement? We think so. That’s why we embrace the growing trend among wine lovers (not just collectors) who are now using these ornate antiques for those special bottles. To find yours, check antique shops, eBay and collectorcorkscrews.com. Here's everything you need to know about wine’s all-important tool.
—By the Editors of Wine Enthusiast
Corks come from the tree of the same name, so it’s logical to assume that with every bottle you buy, you’re slowly slashing away forests with 1¾-inch whacks. Happily, nothing could be further from the truth. That’s because cork is harvested only from the bark, which regenerates quickly. (These towering giants can live as long as 400 years.) According to the World Wildlife Fund, trees that have the bark removed can absorb five times more carbon dioxide than trees with the bark intact. And the 6.6 million acres of cork trees—spread mostly throughout Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Tunisia, Italy and France—supports the highest diversity of plants anywhere on earth. Put another way, every time you pop a real cork, you’re helping the environment.
Relax. Corks break on the best sommeliers more often than you think. Here’s how to prevent it (most of the time) and what to do when your cork-crumble number is up.
You already know the key to clean cork popping is drilling down dead center. If you’re ripping yours to shreds on the regular—and assuming your tip is sharp—your twisting needs tweaking. First, it’s not in the wrist. Instead, your arm, wrist and hand should move as one. Second, make smaller turns; big twists can sabotage staying straight. Third, if corks continue to break on you, stand the bottle on a flat surface and place the tip in the center. As you drive down, don’t twist. Instead, turn the bottle with your other hand.
Pull Don’t Push
When it breaks, don’t be so quick to push it in. Introducing more of the cork to the wine only ups the risk of taint. Remove what you can and try it again on what remains.
To remove cork crumbs, skip the cheesecloth and coffee filter. They may be clean or sterile, but they can affect the flavor of the juice. Your best bet: Pour it through a clean and thoroughly rinsed stainless-steel mesh strainer.
1681—First mention of the corkscrew. Referred to as a steel worm, the primitive design was likely crafted by gunsmiths who used similar tools for cleaning their musket barrels.
1795—British Reverend Samuel Henshall earned the first corkscrew patent. The device featured a wooden handle and a cap at the top of the metal worm, which restricted how far the screw drilled into the cork.
1882—Carl Wienke of Germany invented the sommelier knife: a compact, single-lever corkscrew, fitted with a blade for removing the wine bottle’s protective capsule.
1888—James Healy of England created the A1 Double Lever, or winged corkscrew, with two retractable arms for removing the cork.
1920—Made in France by Marie Jules Leon Bart, the Zig-Zag corkscrew was known for its accordion-like design.
1976—The screwcap, or Stelvin closure, was commercially introduced in Australia.
1979—Engineer Herbert Allen of Houston devised the Screwpull—a great advancement in corkscrew technology. It had a Teflon-coated worm, which made entering and exiting the cork easier.
1990—Winemakers turned to synthetic corks as alternative closures not susceptible to cork taint.
1992—Sandor Bocsi and George Spector received a patent for the electric corkscrew.
2000—The Metrokane Rabbit corkscrew was released.
2013—Medical device inventor Greg Lambrecht released Coravin, which boasts a thin, hollow needle that allows wine to be removed from a bottle without dislodging the cork.
There is but one universal truth in the act of uncorking, and it is this: Opening a bottle with a traditional sommelier knife is really, really cool.
Yes, the Rabbit and the winged corkscrew are easier to work and should absolutely be in your arsenal. But these better-mousetrap openers leave little room for style.
Not only is this fit-in-your pocket corkscrew and foil cutter called a knife, think about how your favorite somm or server effortlessly wields it. They don’t need a flat surface. Pshaw. Their only requirements are the tool, their two mitts and the confidence to pop a pricey bottle while chatting, joking and keeping eye contact with you.
This can and should be you when standing in your pal’s kitchen, or on the veranda of your vacation villa or (especially) at your romantic picnic.
Once you get the hang of the somm knife (see our tips on the previous page), you’ll discover it provides true feel when driving, turning and pulling the cork. In addition to the sheer mobility, this feel is why so many sommeliers prefer it. Sure, it’ll take time to uncork like a pro, but practice comes with a delicious bonus—opening more wine.
Point of Style
The most popular opener among sommeliers, the Laguiole knife (above) has been handmade in Auvergne, France since 1829. It can take a beating, its weight provides sturdiness and it’s gorgeous. While it’s not cheap, costing between $100 and $400, it will last a few generations.
A few of the more draconian-looking antique openers owned by Fred Kincaid, an avid helixophile and founding member of the International Correspondence of Corkscrew Addicts.
Rob Higgs built the world’s largest corkscrew. Powered by a crank, the five-foot-three-inch contraption not only opens bottles, but it also pours and serves the wine.
A corkscrew collector is known a helixophile.
Elite helixophiles have their own private group, the International Correspondence Of Corkscrew Addicts.
There are several corkscrew museums, including Brother Timothy’s Collection at the Culinary Institute of America in California; Musée du Tire-Bouchon in Mènerbes, France; and Museo de la Cultura del Vino in La Rioja, Spain.
France’s Alain Dorotte earned the Guinness World Record in 2001 for being the fastest bottle opener. Using a T-handled corkscrew, he cracked 13 bottles in 60 seconds.
- 1The Everything Guide to the Corkscrew
- 2Is Cork Endangered?
- 3Taming the Screw
- 4Turns of the Screw
- 5The Art Of Using A Somm Knife
- 6Corkscrew Facts for Helixophiles