David’s article as prepared for the Duluth News Tribune for the column which ran on 12/23/2015:
Champagne Survival Guide
Every year, people buy bottles of Champagne, or other sparkling wines, with the intention of popping the cork on Christmas or New Year’s Eve. Nothing says celebration like the pop of a Champagne cork. Champagne bottles ooze luxury, charm and tradition. The bottles are made of heavily colored glass and adorned with multicolored metallic labels with raised lettering and strange French names like Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot and Ruinart. They come with a special cork, a funny wire cage that suggests something inside needs to be contained, and the liquid is both festive and intoxicating. Champagne is the drink of kings, celebrities and champions. If you want to celebrate, you toast with a glass or spray the crowd from the podium.
Popping a cork across the room might seem like a fun thing to do, but accidents caused by Champagne-propelled corks kill about two dozen people each year, according to dailymail.co.uk. A study done on eye injuries in the United States found that 20 percent were from sparkling wine corks, according to reviewofophthalmology.com. Of these, 54 percent resulted in permanent vision loss and 17 percent in legal blindness.
A typical bottle of Champagne contains 90 pounds of pressure. This is three times the amount of a typical car tire. This is enough pressure to propel the cork at speeds of up to 60 mph. Ophthalmologists report that eye injuries from corks include: retinal detachment, blow out orbital fracture, dislocated lens and corneal abrasion, just to name a few. Obviously, there is a right and wrong wayt to open a bottle of bubbly.
Here are the steps to safely opening a bottle of Champagne, or any sparkling wine.
- Chill the bottle for 15 minutes in an ice bucket (ice and water) or about three hours in the refrigerator. A chilled bottle will have less pressure than a warm bottle. This is because at lower temperatures the CO2 — which we recognize as bubbles — is more soluble in the liquid. If it’s in the wine and not in gas form in the bottle, the cork will exit with less force. So, if your wine is colder it’ll be under less pressure than a warmer wine.
- Never shake the bottle, because we all know what happens when you shake a bottle of carbonated beverage. If you want to spray your adoring fans from the podium, shake the bottle after the cork is removed — never before.
- Remove the foil covering the cork and remove the wire cage. Immediately place your hand around the neck of the bottle with your thumb over the top of the cork. At this point, you should consider the bottle armed and ready to pop.
- Hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle, away from people, and grasp the cork with one hand (you should already be doing this). With the other hand, hold the bottom of the bottle. Gently twist the bottle, not the cork. It is important to twist the bottle because you have more control over the bottle than the cork. Done properly, you should feel the cork start to move in your hand, and it will pop nicely into your fist. Don’t pry up the cork, don’t try to use a corkscrew, just gently twist. I’ve encountered stubborn corks before, they will come off.
If you follow these steps, no one should get hurt, the bottle should make a nice festive popping sound and you shouldn’t spill any of that delicious bubbly liquid. Happy holidays!
David Devere is a certified specialist of wine. He writes wine articles for the Duluth News Tribune, teaches wine education classes, and leads wine adventures in France. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.