Basics: The Everything Guide to Cork and Corkscrews | Wine Enthusiast
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The Everything Guide to Cork and Corkscrews

Like a drill or a spatula, you probably don’t think very much about the corkscrew except when it fails you. But remember, using this device is the first step in your amazing wine journeys. So, shouldn’t it hold a little more beauty and excitement? We think so. That’s why we embrace the growing trend among wine lovers (not just collectors) who are now using these ornate antiques for those special bottles. To find yours, check antique shops, eBay and Collector Corkscrews. Here’s everything you need to know about wine’s all-important tool.

Corks come from the tree of the same name, so it’s logical to assume that with every bottle you buy, you’re slowly slashing away forests with 1¾-inch whacks. Happily, nothing could be further from the truth. That’s because cork is harvested only from the bark, which regenerates quickly. (These towering giants can live as long as 200 years.)  To see for yourself check out this video. According to the Rainforest Alliance a harvested cork oak tree can absorb five times more carbon dioxide than an unharvested tree. And the 6.6 million acres of cork trees—spread mostly throughout Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Tunisia, Italy and France—supports the highest diversity of plants anywhere on earth. Put another way, every time you pop a real cork, you’re helping the environment.

Illustration of two men harvesting the bark from a cork tree.

How to Use a Corkscrew


Corks break on the best sommeliers more often than you think. Here’s how to prevent it (most of the time) and what to do when your cork-crumble number is up.

Center It

You already know the key to clean cork popping is drilling down dead center. If you’re ripping yours to shreds on the regular—and assuming your tip is sharp—your twisting needs tweaking. First, it’s not in the wrist. Instead, your arm, wrist and hand should move as one.

Second, make smaller turns; big twists can sabotage staying straight. Third, if corks continue to break on you, stand the bottle on a flat surface and place the tip in the center. As you drive down, don’t twist. Instead, turn the bottle with your other hand.

Pull Don’t Push

When it breaks, don’t be so quick to push it in. Introducing more of the cork to the wine only ups the risk of taint. Remove what you can and try it again on what remains.

Strain Smarter

To remove cork crumbs, skip the cheesecloth and coffee filter. They may be clean or sterile, but they can affect the flavor of the juice. Your best bet: Pour it through a clean and thoroughly rinsed stainless-steel mesh strainer.

Photo by Yann Allegre / Unsplash

A Timeline of Corkscrew History

1681—First mention of the corkscrew. Referred to as a steel worm, the primitive design was likely crafted by gunsmiths who used similar tools for cleaning their musket barrels.

1795—British Reverend Samuel Henshall earned the first corkscrew patent. The device featured a wooden handle and a cap at the top of the metal worm, which restricted how far the screw drilled into the cork.

1829—The first Laguiole knife is handmade in Laguiole, the iconic corkscrew being added to the handle later in 1880. It remains the most popular opener among sommeliers.

1882—Carl Wienke of Germany invented the sommelier knife: a compact, single-lever corkscrew, fitted with a blade for removing the wine bottle’s protective capsule.

1888—James Healy of England created the A1 Double Lever, or winged corkscrew, with two retractable arms for removing the cork.

1920—Made in France by Marie Jules Leon Bart, the Zig-Zag corkscrew was known for its accordion-like design.

1976—The screwcap, or Stelvin closure, was commercially introduced in Australia.

1979—Engineer Herbert Allen of Houston devised the Screwpull—a great advancement in corkscrew technology. It had a Teflon-coated worm, which made entering and exiting the cork easier.

1990—Winemakers turned to synthetic corks as alternative closures not susceptible to cork taint.

1992—Sandor Bocsi and George Spector received a patent for the electric corkscrew.

2000—The Metrokane Rabbit corkscrew was released.

2013—Medical device inventor Greg Lambrecht released Coravin, which boasts a thin, hollow needle that allows wine to be removed from a bottle without dislodging the cork.


Photo by Thomas Northcut / Getty

Cork Dork Facts

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