A wine drinker’s biggest nightmare is the moment they realise that the cork has broken, with chunks of it floating around in the wine they’d been looking forward to sampling. To help you through this problem, here is our guide to cork crumbling and what you should do if it breaks!
Why do corks break?
Whether we store our wine bottles in a rack, a cabinet or a wine cellar, they tend to be slotted into place horizontally. While this does look great and allows for more bottles to be stored, there is another practical reason for this storage situation, and that is to keep the cork wet.
When a bottle of wine is left upright, with the wine settled a little way below the cork, it can begin to go dry and brittle, leading to small pieces of the cork crumbling off and floating around in your wine. This can often happen while uncorking a bottle when the corkscrew dislodges some of the dry cork. With a bottle kept lying down, the wine comes into contact with the cork, keeping it moist and preventing it from crumbling.
However, there are other reasons for a cork to crumble beside this. The next big offender for causing a cork to crumble is the age. Corks are by no means the strongest of things, so naturally, the older they are, the more prone to breakage. The other cause is the tool used to open the wine. Sharper corkscrews, which do not have a smoother end, are also more likely to break the cork.
What to do if it has crumbled
Typically, the cork will begin to crumble at the bottom, leaving part of the cork behind stopping you from accessing the wine. While it may be tempting just to be done with it and push the whole cork in, this can cause more of the cork to flake off, presenting you with a bigger problem to resolve. Instead, very gently and carefully attempt to turn the corkscrew into the hole that was originally made, without pressing down on it too much, and begin to work it back up. Another way of removing the cork, especially if you suspect it is old or damaged, is with a two-pronged cork puller, which slots between the cork and the glass and gently pulls it out, without creating a hole in the cork which could lead to further damage.
Once the bottle is open, it is key to strain the wine to remove any fragments of the cork. The best way to do this is to pour the wine through some cheesecloth, coffee filter, or other porous material that will allow the liquid through, yet keep any cork out. While it may seem an easy option, this is not the job for a sieve, as the crumbled cork can leave minute fragments behind which may not be stopped by the bigger holes of a sieve, but will certainly be noticed if it ends up in someone’s glass!
The important thing to remember is that to avoid your cork crumbling again in the future, the way you store your wine bottles is key! If you are looking for a better storage solution for your wine collection, here at Tanglewood Wines, we offer custom built wine cellars, perfect for keeping your collection in the best condition.