Most of you already know I’m a freak for obscure words and language more generally, so I’ll always take a look at a list of curious words. One that I recently was looking over at Mental Floss included such gems as a dringle, which is “to waste time by being lazy,” perfectly describing what I was doing when I discovered that.
But the other word was agraffe, which they defined as being “the wire cage that keeps the cork in a bottle of champagne.” I’d heard the word muselet used before, usually in connection with champagne, but many brewers today also use them, though most people I know refer to them more simply as a “cage,” as in a “cage and cork,” or occasionally a “cage and crown.”
But agraffe is a new one on me. A quick search reveals that it’s more often used to refer to a part of a piano, “a guide at the tuning-pin end of the string, screwed into the plate, with holes through which the strings pass.” Most dictionaries I looked at didn’t mention the cage usage at all. Champagne.net does offer this definition.
Literally means “staple” (as in Swingline); in Champagne, this is a large metal clip used to secure the cork before capsules were invented, typically during the second fermentation and aging in bottle. A bottle secured with this clip is said to be agrafé.
Notice they also spell it with only one “f.” Wordnik, in their listing under Century Dictionary does list this usage, as the fifth definition. “n. An iron fastening used to hold in place the cork of a bottle containing champagne or other effervescing wine during the final fermentation.”
Muselet doesn’t show up in most standard dictionaries either, but it is defined, at least, by Wikipedia:
A muselet is a wire cage that fits over the cork of a bottle of champagne, sparkling wine or beer to prevent the cork from emerging under the pressure of the carbonated contents. It derives its name from the French museler, to muzzle. The muselet often has a metal cap incorporated in the design which may show the drink maker’s emblem. They are normally covered by a metal foil envelope. Muselets are also known as wirehoods or Champagne wires.
Neither word is included in the “Dictionary of Beer & Brewing” (2nd ed.), but then “cage” isn’t listed in it, either.
So does anybody know? Those of you in the wine world, is either term in common usage, and, if so, is one preferred over the other? Or are they generally only used in France, perhaps? It seems more likely that they were originally borrowed from the French into English, but have since fallen out of use, or perhaps their usage lingers only in the technical jargon of Champagne and sparking wine. Anyone, anyone? Bueller.