From time to time, I hear complaints about the difficulty of opening wine bottles sealed with wax. On the rare occasion I’m confronted with such a wine, it’s been a struggle to get the cork out. Thankfully they are easy to avoid.
Then a client gave me two bottles whose necks were encased in wax. The bottles sat for days while I procrastinated opening them. There had to be an easy way to do it, if only I new how.
Thankfully, the Terroirist, aka David White, came to my rescue. “The mistake people make is thinking a wax capsule is like a foil one,” he said.
“Pretend it’s not there. Go straight through it with a corkscrew.”
Seriously? This is so beautifully simple. I was speechless.
Though White calls the wax “silly and wasteful,” these thick coverings once served a purpose.
Dr. Tony Johnston, a professor at Middle Tennessee State University, says, “Wax seals [were] used to ensure that bottles of wine were completely sealed after filling. Before we became ‘good’ at cutting cork stoppers, leakage was a real issue. By adding wax over the cork and the top of the bottle, a complete seal was much more likely.”
(The wax also kept rodents away from the cork, notes White – thankfully, not an issue for most of us these days!)
Today, wax is pretty much only seen on bottles of high-end wines – and while often simply decorative, it is still of some use. “Wax actually slows the transmission of oxygen through the cork and into the wine,” notes Dr. Johnston. “[It slows] the resultant oxidative aging of the wine and making the wine ‘store longer.'”
And that nifty, super-easy technique for opening the bottle? As the Terroirist promised, it worked like a charm.