On the wall of a friend’s wine cellar there is a strange instrument, which he told me was a pair of antique ‘port tongs’. What would you use port tongs for?
Port can be aged for many years and some ports are still in good condition after anything up to 100 years and more. Corks, however, do not last as long as this. Old corks tend to crumble and disintegrate when attacked by a corkscrew. To open these very old bottles, the port tongs are heated to red heat in the fire and then clamped to the neck of the port bottle, just below the cork. The heat causes the glass to crack and break neatly. The bottleneck is then lifted off without disturbing the cork or the contents. Very old wines like that usually have a good deal of sediment at the bottom, so it is important to shake it as little as possible.
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