A Snippet Of Wine History – The Bottle And Cork
In the Middle Ages, wine was kept in wooden casks and barrels, to which taps were attached. In earlier periods though, these tops of these receptacles would actually be broken open. This meant that if it was not drunk within the space of a few days, the wine would go bad. In the first place, storing and maturing wine in wooden containers changed the wine.
Wood can impart flavor to wines if they are stored in barrels and the like. Maybe a little woodiness is fine, but too long in storage and the wood notes would overpower other aromas like fruit notes. Thus, wine could not be kept for too long in barrels and casks, else the wine would be unenjoyable. The invention of glass bottles brought about a revolution in food preservation.
Glass bottles were great for storing wine because they were non-porous, meaning they did not absorb or impart any flavors outside of what the wine already has. After achieving a certain level of maturity in wooden containers to impart hints of wood, the wine could then be bottled and thus stay perfect for longer. The smaller sizes also meant that there was less wastage due to having wine left over. Plus, they were rather more decorous, especially for the banquets and balls that the nobility were fond of holding. The bottles were also pretty thick, so breakages were less common than one might think.
Prior to the late 17th century, corks were yet to be used for bottling wine. Oil-soaked rags stuffed into the necks proved useful, but were not exactly the best for long-term storage. Glass stoppers individually ground to fit perfectly into bottlenecks were also used; unfortunately they made it all but impossible to open wine bottles without breaking them. Towards the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century, bottles began to be made to standard proportions. Cork material was then introduced as a bottle stopper, and it has been that way ever since.
Cork was great because it was light and compressible, meaning that when driven into a bottleneck, it was a snug fit. Also, in spite of its porous appearance, it is surprisingly resistant to moisture penetration. Cork is also resistant to aging, and corks can go for twenty years with no degradation.
Once opened though, bottles could only be re-corked partially, leaving them half-corked and more vulnerable to spoilage. At that time, the steel spiral that we understand to be a corkscrew was used for other purposes. Attached to a long rod, this steel worm was used to extract wadding from firearms of that period. Someone took that idea and adapted it to corks; now corks could be removed and returned without cutting or pounding.
It is this combination of bottle and cork that had transformed wine into how we see it today. Nowadays, many corks are still made out of cork material. Some have turned to synthetic rubber corks for their bottles, but the idea remains the same.