Everyone’s seen at least one Champagne shower: the victorious team at an Indy 500 race spraying each other with magnums of bubbly, or the winning team at the World Series showering the locker room. This is how not to open a bottle of Champagne. There’s an old saying about opening Champagne: “The ear’s loss is the palate’s gain.” To put it less poetically, Champagne has a limited amount of sparkle. If more goes into making a bang, then less goes into the glass.
An ancient sommelier (waiter in charge of wine) once explained that Champagne is opened in sixes. Once the foil is removed, it takes six half twists to remove the wire. (Some of the most respected writers on wine have called the wire which secures the cork: the “cage,” the “bale, ” the “basket,” the “wire,” the “wire hood,” the “wire straps,” the “wire muzzle,” and “that wire thing.” It’s French name muselet, pronounced “mew-suh-lay”.) Then, make six gentle twists of the bottle while holding the cork firmly to bring up the cork without a pop, just a hiss. But let’s face it, without some pop what’s the fun? A slight pop with just a wisp of vapor – rather than a fountain all over the living room – doesn’t seem to harm the wine.
One word of caution: Never use a corkscrew to open any bottle of sparkling wine. The corkscrew and cork will likely come out of the bottle like a deadly projectile from a Bruce Lee movie. And another word of caution: Beware of the cork. It’s muzzle velocity has been estimated at upwards of sixty miles per hour. Plus, the record distance for a popped cork is roughly one hundred feet. So watch where you’re aiming that little plug. Don’t point it your head, your guests (even the one’s you don’t like), your pets, or your cherished collection of Champagne flutes.
A budding young inventor named James Sweed recently developed a safety device intended for opening Champagne bottle which won him a finalist’s spot in a Hammacher Schlemmer inventors competition. A latex affair that vaguely resembles a mini-condom, the invention fits over the top of the bottle so the force of the cork is dissipated in a protective housing, I believe it’s called The Bottle Butler. But isn’t the risk part of the thrill? Isn’t safe sex enough? Do we have to have safe romance, too?
One more word of caution: Never stick a bottle of Champagne in the freezer to chill. In rampant defiance of everything you learned (or slept through) in high school chemistry, water and wine expand rapidly when they go from liquid to solid. Champagne is already under a lot of pressure, so the results can be atomic. If your date is arriving in ten minutes, set the bottle in an ice bucket surrounded by a mix of ice, cold water, and a little salt. Give it a gentle spin every few minutes and it’ll be perfectly chilled and ready to open by the time you’ve hung up his/her coat and introduced him/her to your pet goldfish.