The invention of the corkscrew
“In the 18th century, when wine was poured into glass bottles to facilitate its transportation, the first corks appeared, and with them the first homemade corkscrews,” says Ronalds Petersons.
– Most likely, the first inventor of the “cork opener” was an Englishman, although now we cannot name his name and the exact date of the brilliant discovery. But we can trace the history of patents.
This year we are celebrating the 220th birthday of the corkscrew. The first patent for the invention of a corkscrew was received by the Briton Samuel Henshall on August 24, 1795. It should be noted that it was not so easy to use it: first you had to aim and hit the exact center of the cork (which in itself is already a feat), and pulling the cork out of the bottle is a rather energy-consuming business. But it was from this year that the boom of patents for various types of wine openers began: from 1795 to 1908, more than 350 (!) Patents were issued to the inventors of corkscrews.
Let us dwell only on the most important dates and models of those ancient times. In 1802, the Englishman Edward Thomason received a patent for the first lever corkscrew, which made it less laborious to remove the cork. The lateral arrangement of the lever for removing the cork was also patented by an Englishman by the name of Land in 1855.
As time went on, inventions became more and more, and one day in 1883 the German Karl Weine patented the “waiter’s corkscrew”. The idea was simple: screw the corkscrew into the cork, after which we push the short end of the corkscrew into the neck of the bottle, and the cork is very easy to pull out when lifting the long lever. By the way, this design is very popular these days – sommeliers work wonders with this corkscrew.
Finally, in 1979, Herbert Allen created his Screwpull. It is easily screwed into the plug, which then comes out of the neck so that it is not necessary to pull it out. It’s funny – the inventor was pushed to create this corkscrew by his own wife, who had enough worn out with conventional models.
How to open a vintage wine bottle
Opening a bottle of wine is not a problem now. But what if you are the owner of a bottle of wine of fifty or a hundred years old? How to open such a rare bottle correctly?
“Opening a 50-60-year-old bottle of wine with an ordinary corkscrew is a risky business. It is better to prepare for this important event in advance and choose a corkscrew that will not crush the cork, which has probably become fragile over so many years, ”advises Ronald Petersons.
There is one very elegant way that requires tongs, a glass of cold water and … a long feather. The tongs need to be heated as much as possible and grab the neck of the bottle, hold for 15-20 seconds, then wet the pen and hold it along the grip line of the tongs. Now the upper part of the neck, together with the stopper, can be easily broken off. To perform a maneuver beautifully and accurately, of course, certain skills are required.
The second way is easier. It only needs a “gypsy” corkscrew, because it allows you to remove the cork so accurately that you can seal the bottle with it again and it will be almost imperceptible that it was opened. This corkscrew consists of two plates that are inserted into the neck of the bottle and “grip” the cork. It is pulled out by turning the corkscrew handle.
What do we have?
Only 5–6 types of corkscrews are most widespread in Latvia. The vintage corkscrew remains one of the most popular. Although you can’t call it convenient: it requires a lot of strength and skill. Further – the simplest and most economical option. The French call this corkscrew “Charles de Gaulle”: the raised levers resemble General de Gaulle’s favorite gesture – a greeting with upraised arms. The corkscrew is just as easy to use.
Corkscrews with “tricky” mechanics, for example, a pump-type corkscrew, are even easier to use. The spiral in such a corkscrew replaces the needle, which is stuck into the cork, then you need to slightly press the lever – the built-in pump automatically pumps air into the bottle, and under its pressure the cork is pushed out.
But all these corkscrews, including professional ones, such as a sommelier’s knife, will not work if you need to uncork a bottle of old aged wine. Over many years of storage, the cork becomes fragile and is ready to crumble at any time, so you need to handle it very carefully. For old bottles, there are special models of corkscrews, the classic version is the “gypsy” corkscrew.
The best corkscrew is the sommelier’s knife, although at first glance it is not so easy to use it. However, it is with such a knife that professionals open wine.
“Wine will not be born until the cork sins with a corkscrew” (British toast).
As mentioned above, in Latvia the choice of corkscrews is not very large, but interesting models can be found here as well. The regular Charlie de Gaulle is the most common type of corkscrew and starts at € 2.29. Non-trivial models can be found in large stores like Stockmann. Elkor has seen over 60 models ranging from € 7 to € 90 and even € 125.99. The Noble Wine store presents an interesting model of a corkscrew, the so-called “butler’s friend” – Bilame (15 euros) with two blades, which allows you to easily pull out even the most ancient corks without damaging them.
Min effort, max pleasure
The main goal of modern inventors is that when opening a bottle, a corkscrew should require less and less effort. Puffing and wiping beads of sweat from your forehead, screwing in and out the cork, has long been out of fashion.
Nowadays there are many modern and noteworthy corkscrews – for example, electronic models. Among them is Oster. (The prices for these goods are quite democratic – 15–20 euros, but the attention of friends at the party is guaranteed.) You simply insert the neck of the bottle into the chrome flask and press the button. A buzzing sound is heard – and after a while the cork is in your hands!
It is difficult to imagine what the corkscrew will be for its 300th anniversary, but one thing is clear – no one will turn their tongues to call it a “steel worm”.