Sometimes I receive questions on Facebook asking me if I have tried the latest wine gadget to hit the market. A recent question referred to the new Coravin corkscrew, the “Elite Two.” As I was replying that I have not tried it, I couldn’t help thinking about some of the antique corkscrews in my personal collection. In this month’s Winemaker’s Journal article, I would like to share with you my passion for this indispensable utensil.
Many of you may collect toy cars, stamps, rubber duckies or glass jars containing sand from all the beaches you’ve visited on a WineShop At Home Dream Vacation. My wine career has exposed me to all sorts of wine-related objects used in the vineyard or in wineries – but none have interested me more than corkscrews. Very early on, the corkscrew tickled my curiosity because of the variety of concepts and the numerous elements used for its fabrication.
A good corkscrew should require as little force as possible, should keep the stopper intact, should not disturb sediments or crack the glass, and finally, should fit as many type of bottles as possible. Since the development of glass bottles for wine in the 1600’s, corkscrew engineers have been busy solving these issues.
The screwpull model on the left is a beautiful machine. This is really the Terminator of all corkscrews, reliable, relentless and it’s back time and time again to pull and extract corks. On the right is his grandfather. Sir Edward Thomason was granted a patent in 1802 for this ingenious design. This double-barrel corkscrew inserts inside the neck of the bottle and as you keep turning, will extract the cork in a single motion. While the modern screwpull is visually appealing, Thomason’s two-hundred-year-old instrument was well-designed for its day. His double-barrel corkscrew was made out of pewter, brass, steel, bone and pig hair for the brush. This little brush came in handy for dusting off dirty bottles from wax or spiderwebs.
Sir Edward Thomason’s factory produced corkscrews that were marked “NE PLUS ULTRA” meaning, “Cannot be improved further.” Clearly, the corkscrew Thomason invented was considered the ultimate corkscrew by that time’s measure.
The Ah-So style, or twin prong style, corkscrew has a simple concept. Two steel prongs are inserted between the cork and the glass. This system allows for a gentle extraction, and is used for older corks that may have become brittle or damaged from other types of corkscrews. If you wiggle and twist the cork (not your body) you can extract any kind of stopper. This style requires slightly more skill than your average corkscrew. This corkscrew concept was patented in the U.S. in 1892 by Lucian Mumford.
Champagne taps from around 1865 follow the same basic principle as the Coravin system. A sharp needle-shaped instrument goes through the stopper to allow pouring wine without any contact with air. This helps preserve the wine if you do not have time to finish a bottle. This was a problem that was solved a couple of centuries ago. Original Champagne taps featured handles made of boxwood, ebony or other types of wood. The worm was a steel shaft, sometimes silver-plated like the one below, which allowed for the flow of liquid inside of the spigot, toward the top.
The images below are a close-up of the corkscrews above. They feature tips that are intricately designed to look like a lion, a swan or a snake.
I promise you that I do not receive any royalties, but I use our WineShop At Home Boomerang Corkscrew every day, as it is sturdy and allows me to open many types of bottles very easily.
Happy uncorking, with whatever you are using!