The cork on sparkling wines is specially shaped to stay in the bottle even while under pressure - they have a wider base inside the neck of the bottle than at the top of the neck. As an added feature, most sparkling wines have a wire cage (aka: muselet) fastened around the top of the cork to ensure it stays in place until it is ready to be opened.
Inside the bottle, the pressure on the cork ranges from four to six atmosphere, which can send a cork flying at 60-70 mph. This is highly dangerous.
Keys to opening sparkling wine safely:
- a dry bottle
- a napkin (aka: serviette)
- a thumb on top of the cork at all times
- slow, steady turning of the bottle
One of my associates, Chris De Persio a trainer with Southern Wine & Spirits, related a story to me about the danger of opening sparkling wines. He was dining at a very nice restaurant in Las Vegas. His server, a young woman, didn't fully dry the bottle of sparkling wine and she began to open the wine. She dropped the bottle on the floor, the cork flew out of the bottle and hit her wrist, breaking it.
Here are the proper steps to opening a sparkling wine at a casual to mid-level restaurant table:
· Bring a champagne bucket or stand to the table and place it slightly away from the table.
· Stand to the host’s right.
· Repeat the name and vintage of the wine ordered to the host, showing the bottle while holding the bottle on top of your napkin. Dry the bottle and put the napkin back on your arm.
· Remove your wine key and use the blade to cut the foil under the cage at the top of the neck. Close blade and put foil in your apron.
· Put your thumb over the cork, and untwist the cage, wiggling it after six turns to expand it. (The cage is always twisted six times, so you'll know when it is free.)
· Drape the napkin over the bottle, grip the entire cage, cork and napkin in your non-dominate hand, and turn the bottom of the bottle slowly with your dominate hand, allowing the cork to gently hiss free.
· Place the entire cork and cage to the right of the host on the table.
(At finer restaurants, the napkin is placed over the bottle before the cage is loosened. Also, the cage is removed and put in an apron pocket, before the bottle is twisted.)
Above all, safety is the key for opening sparkling wine. Let us know what you think of the process!