I have always prided myself on the fact that there is no wine bottle I can not open. Broken corks, old-fashioned stopper, no opener at all, I’ll give it a whirl. Where some shy away from sparkling wine corks, I embrace them, and have never shot someone in the eye or had an explosion. Until recently, that is, ironically just when I was bragging to my friend about my bottle-opening prowess. A mini-champagne volcano erupted, and I was at a loss as to what I had done wrong.
Horrified by my own ineptitude, and on the brink of the biggest sparkling-wine weeks of the year, I had to find out: What had I done wrong? And short of opening my bubbly with a saber, how could I prevent this catastrophe from happening as I prepared to ring in 2019?
Bob Hemaeur, owner of Cork ‘N Bottle in Madison, Wisconsin, assured me that the fault may not have been with me, but with the temperature of the bottle. If the bottle is too warm, it may be more likely to explode; so if you keep the champagne cold enough and eruption shouldn’t happen. But Hemaeur says, “I like to live life to the edge a little bit; I let my champagne get a little closer to 50 or 55 degrees Fahrenheit.” At that temp, he says the champagne gets “a little bit more expressive, you get more nuances out of it. If it’s too cool and not very expressive, I try to let it warm up.” But for those of us who are less thrill-seeking, “45 degrees is a very safe temperature to make sure that it’s cold enough and the cork is under control.”
Still, there’s another factor that could affect the volatility of that bottle: how much it’s been handled. Hemaeur explains that the liquid inside is affected by how the bottle has been carried and stored; shaking is the enemy. “Treating it with the proper amount of respect really helps.”
Also helpful: Opening the champagne bottle properly. And that involves twisting the bottle, not the cork. First, get a good grip on the cork, then use your other hand to turn the bottle.
Sometimes, though, the champagne just explodes, and there’s not much to be done about it. Hemaeur says that “sometimes champagne is just excited to get out of the bottle.” He says that this calamity has also happened to him, even though he estimates he’s opened “dozens of hundreds” of bottles. Still, if the worst happens, he advises, just play it cool. “What you want to do is not freak out, and project that to your guests.”
Your job’s not over once the champagne’s open, though: then what? Hemaeur says: “I tend it to drink it fast enough that a chiller is not necessary.” We hear you, Bob. But if you do have the unlikely occurrence of having some left in the bottle, he says that keeping any sparkling wine chilled in a bucket or the refrigerator will keep it fizzier longer, even through your extended vocal acrobatics on “Auld Lang Syne.” So happy new year everybody, and just keep these tips in mind to hopefully prevent kicking off 2019 with a cork mishap or Prosecco eruption.