Diary of a Corkist (December 30, 2010)
Thirteen years ago I wrote a whimsical account of my life in wine entitled Travels With My Corkscrew. If I were to write the sequel today I would have to call it Travels Without My Corkscrew.
I can't tell you how many devices I have had to forfeit at Toronto airport. The security people could open a shop with what has been confiscated from me. One might have thought that by bitter experience I had learned to empty my carry-on luggage of this indispensable tool, but somehow I manage to forget they are there. Corkscrews are to me like the American Express card – you don't leave home without it. They are in every room of the condo and in every pocket of shoulder bags, briefcases and satchels.
On my most recent flight to Kelowna I really outdid myself. The X-ray machine detected three corkscrews in my computer bag. I just didn't remember putting them there. And I had to hand them all over.
The obliging woman in rubber gloves said that I could always go out and repack them in my checked luggage, but that had already disappeared. And to add insult to injury, the bag did not arrive with me at my destination. How is it that they can find corkscrews but they can't find my suitcase when I land?
That same woman in the rubber gloves said that I could have taken the three corkscrews on board if they did not have a knife blade. Now, the knife blade on a waiter's corkscrew is seven-eighths of an inch long. The helix is roughly two and half inches long. I could do more damage with that than with the blade if I were so inclined. This kind of logic is not something you debate with the screening people who have the power to yank you out of the line and make you miss your flight.
You might think that my corkscrew recidivism might make me wish that every bottle of wine was under screwcap so I wouldn't have to ever suffer the ignominy of having Madame Rubber Gloves rummage through my personal effects and test my toiletries for explosives.
Not so. I'm an unrepentant corkist. Yes, I do believe that certain white wines for immediate consumption (within a year of their vintage date) should be under screwcap; the same for light reds like Beaujolais Nouveau. But for wines of breed and elegance that require cellar ageing there is no substitute for cork. I am prepared to deal with the occasional corked bottle (with the same silent truculence that I exhibit when I divest myself of corkscrews at airports) for the ultimate pleasure of drawing one of Nature's wonders from the neck of a mature claret. George Taber, in his excellent book To Cork or Not to Cork, explains that a cork contains 800 million cells that are filled with microscopic quantities of air. "Nearly 90 percent of cork's volume is made up of those tiny, trapped air pockets, and that gives the product its unique buoyancy and compressibility." Since cork is made up of cells that contain minuscule amounts of air, it can feed oxygen to the wine and assist in
its slow maturation. Screw caps, on the other hand, do not allow passage of air into the wine, and as a result wines under these closures will take longer to age and will appear fresher.
But screw caps are not the perfect closure either. Because the seal is completely hermetic, any residual sulphur products from the winemaking process left in the wine will over time get bound in and produce a rubbery taste. Screw caps are fine for wines that you will open within a year or two of purchase, but I would think twice about cellaring red wines for five years or more under these closures.
And that is why I will always have an abundant supply of corkscrews about me – even if I forget where I stowed them.