How to uncork bubbly safely

By properly chilling sparkling wine the cork release can be controlled and less dangerous.

Special occasions like birthdays, holidays, and of course, New Year’s Eve, are often enhanced by the inclusion of sparkling beverages. Sipping a chilled glass of bubbly can make everything feel more festive and indulgent. However, those bottles of champagne, cava or prosecco can pack quite a punch — and not just because of their alcohol content.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology says each year hundreds of people suffer serious, potentially blinding eye injuries from sparkling wine corks. Town and Country magazine reports that the pressure behind a cork is around 90 psi, which is three times the pressure of most car tires. The AAO says champagne corks can fly out of the bottle at speeds upwards of 50 miles per hour (80.5 km/h). Sometimes that rocket-powered launch can elicit laughs, while other times it can be downright dangerous.

It is important to emphasize safety when uncorking favorite vintages. Expert sommeliers advise following some key techniques so that guests are not ducking for cover the next time a bottle of bubbly is uncorked.

• Ensure the bottle is chilled. Sparkling wine should be properly chilled to around 45 F. Should the beverage not be cold enough, the pressure inside the bottle will cause the cork to be released fast and can cause an overly foamy, geyser-like situation.

• Remove the wrapping. Champagne and other sparkling products are sealed with foil and a wire cage to keep the cork seated. Remove these first, being careful to hold the cork down in case it spontaneously pops.

• Have a towel handy. Drape a dish towel or cloth napkin over the top of the bottle. This muffles the pop and can absorb any spillage.

• Twist the bottle. Hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle facing away from yourself and anyone in the vicinity. Keep pressure around the cork while twisting the bottle. If you twist the cork, it could break inside the bottle. Continue to twist until the bottle starts to loosen from the cork and spins freely. Then you can slowly pull the cork away from the bottle.

• Keep downward pressure. If you can feel the pressure starting to force the cork out, push against the cork to control its release. By managing the release, you can avoid a sharp “pop” and instead have only a mild hiss of pressure as the carbonation escapes.

• Double-pour the bubbly. Only half-fill the glasses to allow the foam to subside. Then fill to desired level.

Note: Leftover sparkling wine can be saved without losing its fizz. If you don’t have a special device for this purpose, you can use a regular metal spoon. Simply insert the stem of the spoon into the bottle top so the bowl of the spoon faces upwards. Pop the bottle into the refrigerator and the champagne will likely maintain its fizz for a few days. Some suggest chilling and then revitalizing bubbles with some raisins. Give it a try to see what works best.

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