Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Big Corkscrew

It's probably the single most frivolous thing a bike geek can blow money on. In addition to making bicycle components worthy of cult status, as well as the complete tool set for building and maintaining bicycles, Campagnolo also produced what may arguably be called the best corkscrew available. And yes, I have one.

That's two pounds of cork pulling madness, packed in a
pretty wooden box.
I got mine years ago, before kids, when money didn't seem quite so tight, and I found someone selling them at a pretty good price. Still pretty expensive, though.

What can I say? I love good wine almost as much as I love good bicycles, and I also love precision-made tools that are perfect for the job at hand. The Cavatappi, or Big Corkscrew, checks all those boxes.

Because it's Campagnolo, it has to come with a legendary story of its creation, and just like the legend of the Croce d'Aune Pass and the invention of the wheel quick release, one has to wonder how much truth there is to the legend.

The story as I'd heard it years ago, and re-told on Campy's own corporate blog page Campy World, was that Tullio Campagnolo was celebrating with some friends and wanted to impress them with a fine old bottle of wine from his collection. In trying to open the bottle with the type of corkscrew that was typical of the time, he found that the old cork crumbled and left bits of cork in the wine, spoiling the occasion. So with his sense of ingenuity, he designed a better corkscrew that would pull the cork smoothly and effortlessly without breaking it.

The bolts that secure the lever arms are instantly recognizable
as Campagnolo chainring bolts.
Then again, on Campagnolo's new online webstore, a slightly different version of the legend states that the inspiration came when Tullio hurt his hand when trying to open the bottle of wine, with no mention of the crumbled cork. Little differences like that make me wonder. . .

Regardless of how it came about, the Cavatappi is a pretty impressive tool for opening wine bottles -- almost overkill, really. In its "resting" position, the thing measures roughly 12 inches tall, and weighs around 2 pounds! But the extra long arms give a tremendous amount of leverage so that even the most stubborn corks are removed effortlessly.

Not the same. Not even close.
There are other details that make this a pretty impressive tool for opening bottles. For one, the "bell" which slips over the neck of the wine bottle is spring-loaded and telescoping so that it can be slipped down to rest on the "shoulders" of almost any wine bottle, regardless of its size or shape -- thereby keeping the corkscrew centered and secured. The screw itself is super sharp and precision-made to screw into a cork without breaking it apart. The handle at the top is likewise huge, and provides lots of leverage for turning.

There are lots of very cheap corkscrews available out there, maybe selling for a few bucks at the grocery store, that bear a slight resemblance to the Campagnolo design, but considerably smaller and lighter. One might assume they would work okay, but they really don't. I can't even count how many times I've been at the homes of friends or relatives, been asked to open a bottle of wine, and been handed one of these pieces of junk -- only to have the cork splinter apart, maybe break in half (with one half still in the bottle), or the corkscrew itself slip, or the lever arms snap off, and even cutting my hand (maybe there was something to that legend). Granted, one could probably buy 50 of these things for the price of the Campy Cavatappi, but that's not really the point, is it?


Recently, Campy has made the Cavatappi available directly to customers through its new webstore online. If fact, the Big Corkscrew is the first item to be featured for sale on the new site.

Overall, the Big Corkscrew is solid and superbly made. The movement of its parts feels precise and smooth. It might be huge, and heavy, and might seem like an unnecessary and expensive indulgence, but it really is a satisfying tool that should last forever.

8 comments:

  1. As wing corkscrews go, that one is on the top of the heap. I personally prefer the Pulltap’s, which has a thin, teflon-coated worm that doesn't chew up corks as much. It also has a built-in blade for cutting the foil (or completely removing the capsule) and a double-hinged fulcrum that makes extracting long corks an easy task. And for the price of the Campy, you could buy two dozen of them.

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  2. Like I said -- it's a totally frivolous thing, and I probably wouldn't even consider it if I wasn't a total bike nut. As you point out, there are lots of effective corkscrews that work well and cost lots less -- no argument.

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  3. It's easier to go with bottles of beer, and open them with a cigarette lighter.

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  4. For some reason I'm amused by the existence of the Campy corkscrew, although it does look beautiful. Even at 171 Euros it seems like a bargain compared to the $65,000 Sveid titanium corkscrew!

    http://www.sveid.com/4a.tirebouchon.html
    http://thedailyeater.com/?p=3936

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  5. Being a fan of both classic bikes and wine, I've been tempted by one of these many times over the years. But there are a couple issues which have kept me making the purchase.

    Granted, these could be seen as minor issues, but coming from a company which I associate with well designed tools and components, I've never been able to pull the trigger.

    First, as Mark mentioned above, the corkscrew is of the auger type vs. a worm or helix. Augers cut their way through the cork whereas worm corkscrews pierce through the cork. This can really make a difference in the corks in an older wine, the cuts started by the corkscrew grow and allow the cork to pull apart - I've had auger corkscrews pull a chunk out of the center of corks leaving behind a large cork "tube" and small chunks of cork in the wine. With really old or questionable corks I’ve had the best luck using an Ah-So style puller, though it’s not much of a pleasure to use.

    I’ve never had the chance to use the Campy corkscrew, but I would imagine that it’s size and greater leverage would make it difficult to feel if the screw was pulling the cork apart instead of removing it intact. Again, this is mostly an issue with older wines, but these are the wines where we we typically have the greatest investment of time and money.

    I really want to want one of these, and maybe I’d be sold after seeing and using one in person. But to me the design feels a bit heavy-handed, too “showy” as opposed to being an elegant, efficient tool.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean about auger vs. worm -- interestingly, the Campy screw is not exactly an auger, or a worm. It's more "open" in the middle than a cheaper auger. So far, I haven't seen an issue with older corks. But I also get that it isn't for everyone, though it is a cool piece to have.

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    2. Thanks for the clarification on the screw, I may just need to track one down.

      Cin cin!
      -Andy

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  6. The chainring bolts are a nice touch. This retrogrouch is enjoying boxed wines these days. ; ).

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