The Taming of the Screw

By Terry Sweeney

On a recent stay in the Hamptons at the Sag Harbor mansion of some richy rich friends of mine; (yes I know that sounded a bit braggy, but read on and you’ll find out why this hoity toity piece of background information is relevant), I was asked by my charming hostess, who was having a dinner party, to grab another bottle of her house red from under her bar. I graciously obeyed and, being a professional wine consultant and wine columnist, of course took on the task of opening it. All alone in her vast kitchen, I searched in vain for a simple corkscrew, but instead came upon a fancy version — something called the Metrokane Rabbit Deluxe Wine Pull. I’d seen these cartoony monstrosities before, but had never really worked one. How hard could it be? Well, I wrestled with the darn thing for at least 10 minutes, but the cork refused to budge. I gave it one good heave ho and it was then I felt the cork move — down into the bottle!

What did head upward, however, was a huge sploosh of red wine that vaguely resembled Old Faithful. And that splashed my hostess’s newly painted ceiling and expensive cabinets, leaving her entire fancy kitchen looking like a seedy crime scene. Well, she did say “house wine, ”I said to myself. Probably some cheap bargain swill. Thank God for that at least!! It was then I turned the bottle around and saw it was Petrus! (A $400 BOTTLE OF WINE!) I tentatively stuck my head around a corner and shakily called out while trying to appear nonchalant. “Hey, so Petrus is your house wine?”

“Oh no,” she replied, “you must have gone to the wrong bar. The only Petrus we have is the one we bought at the Chateau in Bordeaux on our 20th anniversary, and hand carried back on the plane. We’re going to open it on our fortieth, only nine more years to go, but it will be worth the wait!”

OMG, I muttered horrified. “Well so long folks!! It was nice knowing ya!” I ran upstairs to quickly pack and jump in my rental car and speed off. (Of course with the luck I was having I’d run over their adored and pampered Maltese on the way out of the driveway.) Mercifully, they thought the entire mishap was very amusing and I remained their houseguest. Bless their multi-millionaire hearts!

Still, I was left to ponder my troubled relationship with the corkscrew. You know, back in ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, the corks that were used to seal bottles wisely extended above the rim of the bottle neck — far enough to be grasped firmly, and making them much easier to remove. But after the fall of Rome in the fifth century, cork bottles disappeared from use for a thousand years. It wasn’t until the late 16th century that corks reappeared in England and, along with them, early versions of the cork screw. Over the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, various dedicated inventors worked on improvements to the corkscrew. (I’d mention all their names, but let’s face it I can barely keep the names straight of all those bitchy “Real Housewives,” not to mention the endless parade of floozy “Bachelorettes” or all the trash that has washed up on “The Jersey Shore.”)

Let us suffice to say that over many years, many, many people dedicated their lives to making a better corkscrew. So many, in fact, that in 1997 Fred O’Leary published his book: “Corkscrews, 1,000 Patented Ways to Open a Bottle.” Leave it to an Irishman to try all 1,000.

As I Googled the world of the corkscrew online, I came upon an interesting group of corkscrew nuts who got together in 2003 at the Annual General Meeting of the International Correspondence of Corkscrew Addicts in Roanoke, Virginia. The gentleman who hosted this website had posted numerous photos of antique and modern corkscrews that he had obviously painstakingly collected over the years. I thought “Good God, what a bore that must have been.”

How wrong I was. The very last shot was him sitting in a vintage rattan peacock chair at the Pat Pong Corkscrew Club in Bangkok, Thailand, with a bevy of topless Thai hookers draped all over him. I’m not kidding, it went from the dullest bunch of shots of rusted corkscrews to X-rated Thai porn! Well, pardon me!

I guess the bottom line for me is that perhaps the best way to deal with the corkscrew is to realize that maybe its time has come and gone.! After all, you can’t carry one onto a plane anymore and, besides, nowadays there is so much data out there that affirms that one out of every 10 corked bottles suffers from “the taint,” which ruins the taste. And though I feel bad for the cork farmers (add them to a long list of people I feel bad for), I have to admit I just love a screw top.! And more and more people like me are becoming fun-loving Screw-Toppers!!

So, so long ya crazy old corkscrew, see ya in Thailand!




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