Wine: Uncork Champagne Safely

PRESSURE POINTS: There’s a safe way to open a bottle of bubbly – and the sound of a loud pop isn’t what you want to hear

There’s a reason why a champagne bottle has that little wire cage around the cork secured firmly to the neck of the bottle: The interior pressure is so strong that the cork wouldn’t remain in the neck for very long on its own without the additional restraint.

Champagne bottles are packed under a lot of pressure — 70 to 90 pounds per square inch, to be precise. Think about it: That’s three times the pressure in your car tires.

Although most people know this, it bears repeating around the holidays: Be very careful with champagne corks. This is the time of year when corks unexpectedly flying full tilt out of champagne bottles can cause eye and other injuries.

And even if the label on that inexpensive sparkling wine doesn’t say “champagne,” the cork in it is no less dangerous. Many sparkling wines made in other regions —California, Germany, Italy, and Spain, for instance — are bottled by exactly the same methods, and the bottle pressures can be just as great and just as dangerous.

The lighter-styled “crémants,” as sparkling wines in all other areas of France are called, tend to contain much less pressure, 20 to 30 pounds per square inch, which is still enough to be dangerous. Some sparkling apple ciders also can pack a pretty good punch.

How to safely handle a pressurized sparkling wine? First, chill it well, to about 40-45 degrees. Never try to open a bottle that has been bouncing around in a car or in a store shopping cart until it has had an hour or two to sit and calm down. Agitation equals more pressure. You may get it open, but chances are excellent that if it was recently shaken and is warm, you’ll lose as much as a third or a half the bottle in spray and make a nice mess in the process. Once your bottle is chilled, hold it semi-upright, pointing away from you and others, and gently remove the foil. Then loosen the wire cage and remove it.

Now, the part that many people do not know or do is this: Don’t twist the cork. Grip it with one hand and hold it steady. Making sure the lower third of the bottle is wiped dry, grip that area firmly with your other hand and begin twisting the bottle slowly back and forth from the bottom, not from the cork, which should be totally steady. (This will give you much more control over the cork.)

As you turn the bottom of the bottle slowly from side to side, you should feel the cork start to push out. You’ll feel the bottle pushing itself away from the cork. Let it come back to you slowly. When the cork finally comes out of the bottle, it should do so slowly and at the end make a gentle “pssssiitt” sound — not a big pop.

People who blow out the cork with a bang and shoot it across the room are basically draining a lot of the essential gas from the champagne, and that’s the stuff that makes the density and the steady, continuous bubbles. You really want to keep that in the glass, not across the room — and your bottle of champagne won’t go flat as fast.

Happy holidays.