Corking Your Wine Bottles
By Ed Kraus
Okay, it's time to cork your wine. And after all the effort you've poured into your creation over the past month or two, the last thing you want to do now is mess it up. If your time is money, now's not the time to be cutting corners. When it comes to corking your wine, you want to do it the right way.
Here's some info that will help you stage a plan of attack for corking up your precious wines. Using the right bottle, the right corks and the right corker are all ingredients to the recipe for successfully corking your wines.
Choosing The Right Wine Bottle
When we talk about corking wines we have to start with the bottle. Not all bottles were meant to be corked. So, when selecting your wine bottles you want to make sure they have a "cork-finish" with the standard 3/4 inch opening. In other words, they need to be wine bottles that are designed to take a cork. To see a full list of bottles sold by EC Kraus see our wine bottles section.
Corking screw-cap wine bottles just doesn't get it. Quite often the size of opening these bottles have do not work well with the size of corks that are available. Secondly, the shoulder of these bottles will often start too early. There is simply not enough neck for the cork. The result is a compressed cork that flares out on the bottom while in the bottle. When this happens the cork is often drawn down on into the bottle by this flaring action.
Choosing The Right Cork For You
To get a good cork seal on a bottle, you will want to use a "Straight" cork as opposed to a "Tapered" cork. A Straight Cork is cylinder shaped and provides the maximum amount of sealing surface possible. The sealing surface of the Straight Cork is the whole length of the cork, whereas the Tapered Cork seals only at one point along its side--where the cork meets the glass.
One simple way to seal a wine bottle with a straight type cork is to use our T-corks, also call mushroom corks. These are Straight Corks that have a plastic top on them for gripping. They can be pushed in by hand and fit fairly tight when using a standard cork-finished wine bottle. Mushroom corks will work fine for wines that are going to be consumed within 12 to 18 months.
If you plan on storing your wines for longer than a year, then we would recommend going to a more conventional Straight Cork. These straight corks would be like you see used on commercially produced bottles of wine. These Straight Corks are first compressed and then driven into the wine bottle all with the aid of a corker. They offer an extremely tight seal because you are putting a lot of cork into a little area.
We offer three different grades of these straight corks: Superior Grade, Extra-First Grade and Synthetic. The main difference between these corks is their density. The more dense they are the tighter their seal will be. Straight corks are available in more than one diameter. A size #9 is normally recommended when inserting them into a standard cork-finished wine bottle. This is the size that commercial wineries use. All of the corkers we offer will put in this size just fine. But beware, there are some corkers on the market that are prone to pinching or mangling the cork before getting it in the bottle. If you have one of these corkers, then we recommend using a size #8 Straight Cork instead.
SUPERIOR GRADE STRAIGHT CORKS:
These are our most common straight corks. They are recommended for wines that are to be consumed within 3 years. If you think you might keep some of the wine around a little longer you might consider using the Extra First Grade.
EXTRA FIRST GRADE STRAIGHT CORKS:
These corks are more select and are more dense then the Superior Grade. They are recommended over the Superior Grade for wines that may be stored for more than 5 years. They are of the same quality that most wineries use, and will provide a dependable seal for many years.
SYNTHETIC STRAIGHT CORKS:
These corks are produced from man-made materials. They are beige to brown in color with light swirled design that look similar to a natural cork. When these corks are used, you are essentially providing the best seal a cork can possibly give. We recommend using these corks when you know you are going to keep a wine for many years.
Choosing The Right Corker For You
We have three different types of corkers available. All of them work primarily the same way. They have a compressing iris that evenly compresses the cork from all sides, down to about the diameter of a dime. Then they drive the cork into the bottle.
All of them will insert a full size #9 Straight Cork into a standard cork-finish wine bottle with ease. The main difference between them is speed.
GILDIA HAND CORKER:
This is a hand-held corker. It has a butterfly handle action for compressing the cork and a long levered handle for driving the cork. It is a two step process--compress then drive.
FLOOR MODEL CORKER:
The Gilda Hand Corker is the ideal unit for someone that is corking 20 or 30 bottles at a time, but if you are planning on corking 150 or 200 bottles or more throughout the year, then you might want to consider getting a Floor Model Corker.
These corkers compress and drive the cork just like the Gilda Hand Corker, but they do it in one single action. You load the cork and pull the handle. As you start to pull down on the handle the corks is being compressed. Then at the end of the handle's throw, the cork is driven into the wine bottle. This single, swift action makes the corking process move along a bit faster.
If you plan on using Synthetic Straight Corks, then you will want to use a Floor Corker. These corks are extremely dense and require the additional leverage that these corkers provide. For a full list of corks sold at EC Kraus, click here.
What you will notice when you first get your corks is that they are fairly hard or rigid, much more so than the corks that you pull out of a wine bottle. For these corks to go nicely into the wine bottle and mold themselves to the inner wall of the bottle's neck, they will need to be softened.
There are many different recommendations for softening corks from one source to the next. Some sources will recommend soaking the corks over night in a cold sulfite-water bath. Others will recommend pouring boiling water over them.
Both of these methods have merit in the sense that they will sanitize the corks. But they may or may not soften the cork up sufficiently to be inserted into the wine bottle.
For softening and sanitizing the corks, we recommend steaming them. Bring a pan of water to a boil. Then take the pan off the heat; drop in the corks, and put the lid on the pan. Allow them to steam for anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes, depending on the cork.
It is important that you do not steam them anymore than necessary to make them slightly pliable. It is not necessary for the corks to be spongy. In fact having them too soft will make them harder to put in as well. You just need them to give a little when you squeeze them between your fingers.
Also, heating the corks longer than necessary or steaming them while the water is boiling will cause them to deteriorate while in the bottle. This can lead to leaky bottles during storage and an unpleasant, crumbly mess when the time comes to decant your wine.
After The Corking
After you have corked your wine bottles you will need to leave them standing up-right for at least 1 day--2 would be better. This is to give the corks time to re-expand into the neck of the bottle and create a complete seal.
After the re-expanding period you will need to store the bottles on their sides, so that the wine is touching the cork. This is to keep the cork moist and expanded. If the bottles are stored up-right, the corks will eventually dry out and the wine bottles' seal will be compromised. Over time, this could lead to problems with oxidation and possibly spoilage of the wine.
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.