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About Corkscrews

You have that gorgeous bottle of wine in your hand. You have admired the label, felt the weight of the bottle, but what you really want to do is drink it. You could open it with a sword, or even a hammer, but what you really need is a corkscrew.

We all know what a corkscrew looks like, that wiggly thing with the pointy end and some kind of a handle, but have you ever thought about where the idea came from, or which type, or types, you should have? The corkscrew is probably the least appreciated piece of wine paraphernalia, and one of the most important.

Before glass bottles came into common use in the 1600’s there was no need for a corkscrew as the stoppers used could be easily pulled out. Glass bottles allowed for better aging compared to their semi-porous predecessors, and storing the bottles on their side kept the corks from drying out and leaking. This required a cork that fit tight in the bottle, which made it hard to pull out. We don't know how they got the corks out of those first bottles. Gun worms looked like giant corkscrews and were used to remove spent cartridges from musket barrels. It is easy to imagine a soldier (ok, it’s wine, so probably an officer) seeing the similarity in a gun barrel and the neck of a wine bottle and saying “why not”. The first patent for a corkscrew was issued in England in 1795, but they were in use for at least 100 years before that.

By the way, a person who collects corkscrews is called a helixophile. Just thought you would want to know that.

Today there are many different varieties of corkscrews, cork removers, and wine extractors. Probably the most common is the Waiters Friend, or the Wine Key. This has a blade to cut the foil, a lever to put at the edge of the bottle for leverage, and the wiggly bit (the screw, or worm) that goes into the cork and folds up into the handle so it can be safely stored in a pocket.

The T-corkscrew is the most basic. Just a screw and a handle. The only thing pulling the cork out is the strength of your arm. Great for body builders, not so much for the rest of us.

The Wing Corkscrew looks cool, with two arms that start by pointing down, then raise out to the side as the screw goes into the cork. Push down the arms and the cork comes out. It is like the corkscrew is doing the exercises you forgot to do.

There are also electric corkscrews and lever corkscrews, and many others, but I want to finish up with two types that don’t even have screws.

The two prong wine opener has two prongs that slide down on either side of the cork. This has the advantage of not damaging vintage corks, and working on corks that one of the other corkscrews started to mangle, but you managed to stop before the cork was nothing but bits floating in the bottle. By sliding the prongs down the sides of the cork and slowly twisting on the way up even badly damaged corks can be safely removed.

Then there are the gas openers. They use an inert gas like nitrogen to pressurize the bottle either forcing the cork out (not very effectively in my experience, but fun when it works), or forcing the wine out through a hollow needle, leaving the cork undamaged so the wine can continue to be stored without spoiling. Most corks will expand to seal the hole.

However you open the bottle, take a moment to thank the inventors who made it possible to get wine out of the bottle and into your glass where it belongs, however temporarily.