Corks

Corks grow on trees. You can’t pick them like apples or oranges, but corks really do grow on trees.
Cork is the bark of an old cork tree. It’s a quarter century before the tree can surviv…

Corks grow on trees. You can’t pick them like apples or oranges, but corks really do grow on trees.

Cork is the bark of an old cork tree. It’s a quarter century before the tree can survive stripping off its thick spongy layer of bark. That first crop isn’t the good stuff—that’s another ten years away. Mature trees produce high quality cork every decade or so for centuries. Every year, 300,000 tons are harvested—principally in Portugal and Spain.

More than half of the cork crop is cut into cylinders for an estimated twenty billion bottles every year. Cork has been the stopper of choice for centuries. It is compressible so it can be squeezed into the neck of a wine bottle. There, it expands to seal the bottle. The wine is contained. The cork breathes allowing oxygen to diffuse in for the aging process.

It takes a tool to break the cork’s grip on the bottle. You can get an adequate one at the 99¢ Store. You can get an even better one from Neiman Marcus. Both run a spiral screw into the cork to grasp it. The 99¢ one takes a little muscle power and won’t impress your guests, but it gets the job done. My high-priced one lived to be almost three. My cheap one has to be at least thirty years old.

A champagne cork isn’t just another wine cork. It’s engineered to contain the pressure that gives the sparkle to sparkling wine. That pressure three times what’s in your car tires—about what’s used for a fully loaded semi. A top cylinder of ground cork and glue is attached to a high quality cork base. The bottom is compressed hard and jammed into the champagne bottle. A wire basket is added just in case.

A champagne cork should be removed carefully. A bottle of champagne can shoot a cork at fifty miles per hour—quite enough for a bad bruise or to put an eye out. Always point the bottle away from people. Strip the foil wrapper. Grasp the cork with one hand while loosening the wire basket with the other. If the cork doesn’t move, set the wire basket aside and take hold of the cork again. Twist the cork and guide it slowly out of the bottle.

Unless you have just won the Super Bowl, you probably don’t want to spray champagne all over the place. Hold the cork against the lip of the bottle to contain the initial pressure surge. Then enjoy.

 

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