Many years ago, a good friend pulled a little party trick and I learned it because I thought it was not only delightful, but a fun way to memorialize a good evening of excellent conversation: Wire bistro chairs out of the wire cage and metal disk.
Some people use small pliers to make the chairs – my personal feeling is that a casual approach is best, something to keep the hands busy while the mind and mouth are elsewhere. I usually fashion a small bottle from the aluminum foil, perhaps a couple of even smaller glasses, and then add the cork itself with a small bit of napkin or tissue as a tablecloth to make an entire miniature.
The invention of the champagne bottle, as I’ve noted in a previous post, was a prerequisite to the popularity of champagne. Prior to the 17th-century invention of the a glass strong enough to withstand the pressure of the bubbles in sparkling wine, exploding bottles were a regular hazard in champagne production.
The wire cage (‘musselet’) was invented in 1844 to keep the cork from popping out – prior to this, string was used. And prior to the introduction of of wine cork stoppers in the mid-17th century, oil-soaked rags were used to stop the bottles. The small metal disc that sits atop the cork is called a plaque de musselet, and there is a thriving collector’s market in them. (Really. Check this French site out if you are in the market for a new and obscure hobby.)
The rim of the bottle anchors the wire cage, while the foil – originally made of lead – is thought to have prevented mice from attacking the cork. This foil is now made of aluminum.
The cork of a champagne bottle, recognizable by its characteristic mushroom shape, is usually made of particle of natural cork – generally considered a sustainable crop. Studies claim that natural cork has a considerably smaller carbon footprint than either plastic or aluminum bottle stoppers. 60% of cork oak production is used for bottle stoppers. The corks look more like the image to the right when they are inserted – the mushroom shape comes only after being ‘popped’.
According to Champagneguide.net, the main body of the cork, called the manche, is made of agglomerated cork, while the miroir consists of between one and three discs of natural cork, affixed to the bottom portion that comes into contact with the wine.
As for the glass, the glass-making techniques that prevent the previous loss of between 20 – 80% of any given vintage also mean the bottles are heavy. Champagne producers, in the interest of reducing both costs and ecological footprint, are moving towards reducing the weight of the bottles from the usual 900 grams to 700 grams.
As as for the indentation, or ‘punt’, its purpose is to redistribute pressure so that the force of the gas doesn’t explode the bottom of the bottle.
And as any regular champagne imbiber knows, the punt is the perfect place to insert your thumb when pouring to avoid disastrous bottle slippage.