Cork has been used to fashion bottle stoppers for thousands of years. Historical records and artifacts show that cork stoppers for wine jugs were used as far back as 500 BC. The early Romans also used cork stoppers that they then coated with pitch to make a watertight seal.
Cork stoppers prevented air from getting into the wine bottle. Over time, people noticed that wine improved with age. This improvement made aged wine more valuable. People began collecting and storing wines instead of just drinking them outright. This made cork stoppers even more necessary.
Unfortunately, cork has one drawback in that it tends to break apart easily. Cork stoppers were only driven in partway for a long time so that they would be easier to pry out of the bottle. Until someone figured out a way to get the cork out easily, stoppers were not a practical way to completely seal a bottle.
If the cork was driven all the way into the bottle, trying to pry it out would result in pieces of cork floating in the wine. Not only is this unattractive and messy, true wine lovers will tell you that it spoils the delicate flavors of the wine. To truly make it feasible to properly collect and store fine wines, it was imperative to have a way to remove the cork easily and in one piece.
While we're not sure exactly when, at some point in the early 17th century someone came up with an easier way to pull the cork out of a bottle. Referred to as a "steel worm", soldiers had a metal tool that they used to draw bullets and wadding out of their muskets. Someone had the brilliant idea to use that tool to draw out a wine cork.
This was the birth of the most necessary of wine accessories, the corkscrew. Originally called a bottlescrew, the tool is made of metal that is shaped in a spiral fashion with a point on one end. You insert the point into the cork and screw it down into the cork. Once it is in deep enough, you can just pull the cork out.
A good corkscrew uses leverage to pull the cork cleanly, easily and in one piece. Unfortunately, this can be tricky for many people. If you don't have the tool in far enough, the cork can break. Not only does this make it difficult to remove the remaining cork, you could end up with little bits of cork falling into the wine bottle.
The latest answer to the problem of uncorking wine is the rabbit corkscrew. This version of the corkscrew is much easier to use. The rabbit corkscrew has a lever which puts the screw in and draws out the cork. This lever eliminates the guesswork and prevents the problem of broken corks.
Although wine bottles are now found with metal or plastic stoppers, true wine lovers swear that only cork is used in fine wines. Wine with other stopper materials are still looked down on as inferior or cheap. If you need a gift for a genuine wine lover, you'll never go wrong with a good quality corkscrew.