The Champagne cork is a simple object with a fascinating history. The cork seems different, but is actually very similar, if not identical, to the corks used for still wine. The bark from cork trees has been used to stopper bottles since the Roman times, and is still being used today.
While some believe that Dom Pérignon is the father of both Champagne and the Champagne cork, others have contested these accreditations. Either way, this is what we know about the Champagne cork.
Part of the reason Champagne was so disliked back in the day was its volatility – it was even nicknamed the devil’s wine because it was so combustible Champagne workers would wear masks to protect their faces from corks and glass fragments. Something had to change, and so came the wine bottle attached with twine to anchor down the cork.
Although centuries have passed, and technology is far more advanced, the concept behind safely bottling Champagne has not changed. Today, we still use thick corks to lock in the carbonation along with a contraption preventing the cork from shooting off, the metal cage on top. The metal cage is crucial, without it, we would be back to the old days wearing Jason masks to protect ourselves from exploding glass bottles.
These corks that lock in the bubbles are no different from the corks used for still wines, even though Champagne corks look like little mushrooms. Turns out, all the carbonation in the Champagne bottle is what causes the cork to shape shift.
But how does that cork even get in there?
Let’s back up. Cork is very malleable and is squished very tightly, smaller than the diameter of the bottle, and inserted two thirds of the way into the bottle. The cork expands to fit the neck bottle, trapping in all the bubbly-goodness.
Because there is such a high amount of CO2, the third of the cork sticking out of the bottle absorbs the carbonation and swells into the dome shape we are familiar with. The rest of the cork sitting in the neck of the bottle maintains its straight form, but as soon as it’s freed, it expands back to its pre-compressed shape. This is why we see a fat cork once we pop a Champagne bottle.
So, the next time you pop open a bottle of bubbly, even if it’s after reading this, pay the cork some love. Notice how it much it changed shapes. Thank it for doing its job and keeping all those bubbles nice and safe for you.