A physics lesson in a screw cap

Perhaps I’m easily entertained, but I still remember my excitement, one day in high-school physics class, to learn about the basic devices called simple machines.

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Levers and pulleys and ramps. Wheels and axles and wedges and screws: These basic tools with few moving parts – in physics they are called simple machines – use leverage to work the magic of multiplying force.

Lifting, hoisting, pushing and more: It’s no surprise that humans invented these labor-saving devices long before historical time. They make life easier. Even a simple ramp or sloped surface – an inclined plane, in tech talk – simplifies the job of raising a heavy object to a higher level. Yes, that slope is a simple machine too, as simple as it gets.

So what does this digression into physical science have to do with wine? Simple! We need a tool to open the bottle! The simple wine-server’s corkscrew is a lever, multiplying the force of your hand to make it easy to get the cork out of the bottle.

Chart of simple machines © Encyclopedia Britannica Inc..

Chart of simple machines © Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.

Now I can hear you thinking “Gotcha!” What about screw caps? No, you don’t need a corkscrew to open a screw-capped bottle. This matters now that screw capped wines are approaching one-third of the market. But you still have to exert a little force – work – to break the seal and open the cap.

I hate to say “gotcha” back, but here’s another bit of physics trivia: Remember I mentioned that a screw is one of the six simple machines? That spiral thread on the inside of the cap, matching the glass threading on the bottle neck, is really nothing more than an inclined plane wrapped around and around. Unwind it and it’s nothing but a long angled line: A ramp. Twist the cap and you are converting that rotational motion to linear motion as the cap rises up to open the wine or twists down to seal it tight.

So, no matter how you open the wine, you’re using a simple machine. And here is how that matters: Have you ever had a hard time opening a screw cap because it’s pulled down tight and tightly sealed along that dotted line that you must break the first time you open the cap?

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A physics lesson in a screw cap


Screw capInstead of cussing it or looking for pliers, try a trick that I learned from an Australian sommelier back in the early ’00s: Firmly grasp the metal capsule – not the cap itself – with one hand, and twist the bottle clockwise with your other hand. The metal seam will break open with a satisfying click.

Without realizing it, you have just brought the laws of physics to bear. By twisting the bottle – the larger surface – you’ve maximized the force around the capsule – the smaller surface – just as if you had used a longer lever or a more sloping ramp to ease your task.

That’s your physics lesson for today. If you’ll keep it in mind, it will serve you well the next time you run into a problematic screw cap.

Today’s featured wine, a tasty, freshly fruity and gently sweet Fritz Zimmer Mosel Riesling Auslese, came well protected under a sturdy screw cap. Easy to open by twisting the bottle with my dominant hand, it’s a delicious wine at an affordable price. You’ll find my tasting report below.


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Today’s Tasting Report

Fritz Zimmer 2019 Mosel Riesling Auslese ($16.99)

Zimmer Mosel Riesling Auslese

Designated Prädikatswein, the top quality level for German wine, Zimmer Mosel Riesling Auslese shows a clear, pretty brass-color greenish-gold in the glass. Alluring Riesling aromas lift up from the glass: Pears, white flowers, and a mix of citrus, with that oddly attractive Riesling mineral note that’s mysteriously akin to petrol. Its first impression on the palate is firm, mouth-watering acidity that gradually gives way to distinct sweetness that speaks of fruit. Pears, lemon-lime, and tangerine hang on in a very long finish, with wisps of stony minerality lingering alongside. Delicious Riesling with just 9% acidity – typical for Auslese – making it hard to resist another glass. U.S. importer: Winesellers Ltd., Niles, Ill. (Feb. 28 , 2022)

FOOD MATCH: Fruit-based desserts are a natural with this sweeter-style Riesling, but its acidic balance makes it a good companion with cheese and many vegetarian and vegan dishes as well. It was excellent with a dish of penne with roasted fennel, garlic and onions with a light Parmigiano Reggiano sauce.

WHEN TO DRINK: Riesling ages well, and sweeter Riesling ages very well. Even though this is not an estate-bottled wine, its composition and balance and its sturdy metal screw cap suggest that it’s safe to cellar it for five years, and under excellent conditions even longer.

Wine-Searcher.com’s $13 average U.S. retail and even my $17 local price seems fair for a tart-sweet and balanced Mosel Riesling like this.

Importer Winesellers Ltd. offers this good info sheet on its web page.

Check prices and find vendors for Fritz Zimmer Mosel Riesling Auslese on Wine-Searcher.com.

Follow this Wine-Searcher link to read more about the Mosel valley and find listings for dozens of other wines of the region.

Read about Riesling and browse scores of wines made from this white grape at this Wine-Searcher link.


Wine Focus March 2022:
Riesling is coming!

Riesling Day is March 13, 2022.

The first written reference to Riesling dates back to March 13, 1435, so this classic variety offers nearly 600 years of history to ponder.

Germany is still the largest producer of Riesling, but there’s all sorts of other countries and regions to celebrate. Grab a Riesling from New Zealand, Austria or Canada. Make an effort to explore the rapidly improving Rieslings out of the Finger Lakes region of Western New York. Have a dry Riesling. Better yet, convince a skeptical friend that Riesling isn’t always sweet wine! Enjoy an Auslese with a cheese course. There’s 31 days to celebrate Riesling in March, and more than 31 ways to enjoy Riesling.

You are welcome to join us! Check in at Wine Focus March 2022, and say hello!


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