The Corkscrew: 400 Years of Helping Wine Lovers Enjoy Their Cabernet or Chardonnay
Before any wine drinker takes that first sip of delicious ruby or golden liquid it must first be freed from the glass container in which it has so lovingly been sealed by the winemaker. To do so usually requires the assistance of a corkscrew, something most probably think of as a utilitarian device that languishes in a kitchen drawer until needed.
Early wine bottles were sealed by corks inserted in such a way that a substantial portion remained above the bottle lip. The wine drinker would remove the cork by wrapping a cloth around it and pulling quickly –or using a set of strong teeth. At some point, perhaps to remove a cork that became lodged too deeply in a bottle’s neck, an enterprising and thirsty wine lover realized that a simple screw could solve the problem. Attach it to a handle, screw it into the cork, and pull. Problem solved.
No one knows exactly when that happened but corkscrews are known to have been in use as early as the 1600s. In the centuries since they have evolved immensely. While still practical tools, they have become expressions of individualism and there is a corkscrew option for everyone.
Most corkscrews, but not all, still feature a steel “worm”, which essentially screws through the cork. For rest of the instrument, however, the sky is the limit. Handles can be as simple as plastic tube, as elaborate as a gold and ivory work of art, as silly as a ceramic cartoon figure, or anything in between. Over the years they have been crafted of walrus tusks, carved wood, porcelain, and even titanium. They have also been created in the shape of animals, human body parts (like feet), or ships and automobiles.
Some corkscrews are engineering marvels featuring rack-and-pinion levers and gears (check out the Le Creuset LM250L Lever Model Corkscrew and Foilcutter Gift Set). Electric motors power some modern versions, such as the Peugeot Elis Rechargeable Electric Corkscrew and Metrokane VIP Electric Rabbit, while others rely only on strong wrists. Some have knives for cutting foil built into them while some are built into knives (think Swiss Army knife).
By the 20th Century, wine producers began to see the advertising potential of corkscrews. They began to embellish their names on them and give them away as promotional items. Who wouldn’t be proud to use a corkscrew that was a memento from a trip to a favorite winery?
Since corkscrews come in so many forms they have become a popular collectible for wine enthusiasts in recent years. Those with a passion for these functional, yet sometimes whimsical, or even beautiful, tools are known as helixophiles and there are even clubs for collectors of vintage corkscrews. (Take a look at the Cremaillere Wall Mounted Corkscrew a modern reproduction of an early 20th century model.)
So next time you open a bottle of wine, give the humble corkscrew a little of the respect he deserves. Without him, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy our favorite hobby!
By the way, it was mentioned that not all wine openers use the steel worm. If you want to try something different check out the Giovanni Cork Pops, which uses compressed air.