The ceremony of extracting a cork stopper marks the beginning of a ritual – that of drinking a good bottle of wine. However, wine becomes increasingly precious if drinking it becomes simultaneously a cultural and social act. This act commences when the cork is withdrawn.
Depending on the age of the bottle, there will be stoppers in the widest range of states. Thus, in new wines, we will find the most robust stoppers. In older wines, stoppers will have some loss of elasticity; and lastly, in very old wines, generally over 35 years old, we will find weakened stoppers due to their already fragile internal structure. These stoppers are the hardest to remove because they may break when pulled out. In these oldest wines, instead of using a corkscrew, heated tongs can be used to cut the neck, without having to withdraw the stopper (see Figure).
Whatever the case, when using a corkscrew and with new or old wines, care should be taken to always pull the cork in the vertical.
“Sommelier” corkscrews are quite common and allow the stopper to be withdrawn easily and always vertically. There are other models that use an impulse, but which always work in the vertical. The pronged corkscrew, which extracts the cork from the sides without damaging its internal structure, can be used with wines of any age, but especially when opening older wines.
One of the main parts of a corkscrew is its spiral. This has to be at least 7 cm in length to be able to deal with longer corks, and should have a sharp point. In terms of the material, the spiral must be a single-piece, completely smooth and without sharp edges. Spirals with a Teflon™ surface or surface with a similar material are recommended as they pierce the cork with ease, without damaging its internal structure.
The bottle should be opened carefully and calmly. First, the capsule that protects the neck of the bottle must be removed, at about one centimeter below the top rim of the bottle. Then, especially if the bottle is old, the neck of the bottle and the top of the cork stopper must be wiped with a clean cloth.
The point of the corkscrew is then placed in the center of the cork stopper taking care to insert the spiral of the corkscrew far enough but not so deep so that it perforates the bottom of the cork. This operation is hard to do with some designs of corkscrews, especially those that do not work by pushing, and the corkscrew must be inserted fully. In this case, particles of cork may fall into the wine, especially with older stoppers. However, this is not a serious problem and it is good to remember these small particles are organically harmless, even if consumed. If this were to happen, they are normally poured into the first glass, which is then generally served to the host.
In the case of sparkling wine, the bottle must be opened with care and without agitation so as to enjoy all the qualities of the wine. After removing the muselet, the cork stopper must be held firmly. Then, the bottle and not the cork must be turned, in order to prevent too much twisting of the cork stopper. On removal, the cork will give that unique ‘pop,’ a cause for joy and enrichment of our senses – something only a cork can do.