We’ve all seen the movies and TV shows… someone opens a bottle of sparkling wine by popping the cork, sending it flying into the air, while those beautiful bubbles spout forth like a geyser. Not what you should do or even want. Think about it, you’ve spent some cash on that bottle, and the more that spews out onto the ground, or your drinking partner, the less that you have to share and enjoy. Then there’s the safety issue. Seriously.
Depending upon which source you use, the pressure in a champagne bottle is somewhere between five and six atmospheres, or 70 to 90 pounds per square inch. To put this in perspective, that’s about two to three times the amount of pressure in your car’s tire. When opened carelessly, that cork could fly out of the bottle at a speed approximating 60 mph, causing a great deal of damage to people, glassware, windows or walls.
But if you take a few steps, opening a bottle of sparkling wine isn’t hard, and you’ll easily be able to master it on the first try. First, chill your champagne to about 45°F. At room temperature, the carbon dioxide [remember, that’s what creates those effervescent bubbles] pressure in the bottle builds up, causing the cork to burst quickly and a geyser to follow. A cold bottle of champagne is less likely to pop, plus a chilled bottle of bubbly is exquisite.
Now let’s open that bottle with a whisper, not a POP!
Sparkling wines have a tab to help open the foil on the bottle, but often the tab fails to make its way around the bottle, so you can use a wine key to cut the foil evenly, creating a clean line about the bottle. Once the foil is removed, then the cage covering the cork is exposed.
Use a napkin or a towel. First make sure the bottle is dry, so that it doesn’t slip in your hands. Turn away from people, glassware and windows. Place the towel loosely over the cage and cork, then untwist the cage counterclockwise. While you’re untwisting the cage, keep the towel and your hand over the cork to keep it from popping out prematurely.
With the cage loosened, you can begin to extract the cork by keeping one hand on top of the cork, and slowly twisting the bottle from the bottom. Do NOT twist the cork. You’ll begin to feel the cork pushing out naturally as you continue to twist the bottle from the bottom. Keep your hand on top of the cork, so that it doesn’t release too quickly.
Here’s the challenge [and it’s fun]. The slower the cork separates itself from the bottle, the more gently the hiss that escapes. Your goal is to make the softest sound possible—barely a whisper. Winemakers will tell you that a great bottle of champagne should only whisper when it opens!
Using a towel and going slowly make all the difference and will distinguish you as a true sparkling wine opening afficionado. Give it a try!
Once the cork is removed, wipe the lip of the bottle, use one of your white wine glasses, pour, and really look at the liquid in your glass. There are an estimated 5 million bubbles in a bottle of champagne. The smaller the bubbles, the higher the quality. Those bubbles mark life’s celebrations, large and small. Bubbles just make you happy.
Americans still consider sparkling wine to be solely for special occasions, but honestly, isn’t every day a cause for celebration. You don’t have to wait for an occasion, make one. A minor victory at work, a tough commute, maybe even a rough day. That bottle of sparkling wine chilling in your fridge might just be what you need to make your mouth happy, and you!