A bottle of sparkling wine, whether it’s a famous Champagne or an inexpensive offering from one of the world’s other wine regions, lends an air of excitement and celebration to any gathering. The impressive pop and fizz you see in movies and alongside racetracks are purely for show and shouldn’t be your goal when opening a bottle at home. Instead, open it quietly, aiming to keep your wine in the bottle where it belongs. This requires proper bottle-opening technique, especially with the plastic corks used on many unpretentious brands of bubbly.
Before you start, understand that the cork in your bottle can cause damage. Imagine a rowdy nephew running loose in your home with a slingshot and a pocket full of stones, and you’ve got the basic idea. The flying cork can reach 50 miles per hour, threatening any fragile items in the area. That includes your eyes and the eyes of anyone else around you. To quote generations of mothers, you can indeed “put someone’s eye out with that thing.” You don’t need to shoo everyone else out of the room, just be aware of where the bottle is pointing when you open it.
For the best result, don’t open a bottle of sparkling wine the moment you get it home. Instead, chill it for several hours. This reduces pressure inside the bottle, and — like resting a soft drink that’s been shaken — provides time for gas to be re-absorbed into the wine. Once the bubbly is properly chilled, you’re ready to start.
Moisten a handkerchief or small kitchen towel, and wring it out thoroughly so it’s damp rather than wet. Set it beside you, where it’s within easy reach.
Remove the foil from the bottle, exposing the cork and the wire cage holding it in place. Angle the bottle away from any people or fragile items, and rotate it so the cage’s twisted closure is visible.
Drape the dampened towel over the cork and cage, and then grip it so you have a thumb placed firmly over the cork. With your other hand, twist the wire closure until it opens. If the bottle tries to push the cork out, your thumb will hold it in place and keep you in control of the situation.
Grasp the damp towel and the underlying cork firmly. With your other hand twist the bottle gently, until the plastic cork begins to move, then pull the bottle away. Your plastic cork should slide from the bottle with just the gentlest of popping noises.
Allow the pent-up gases to escape for 5 to 10 seconds before you begin pouring.
The steps for opening a bottle, whether it has a natural cork or plastic, are essentially the same so you might legitimately wonder how much difference there is between the two. The main difference is that the porous surface of natural cork doesn’t stick as doggedly to the inside of the bottle’s neck. Plastic corks, on the other hand, are reluctant to begin moving when you twist the bottle. That’s why the dampened towel, which improves your grip, is a useful tool. Once the plastic cork begins to move, it should pop out just as easily as a natural cork. Plastic corks are also harder than their natural counterparts, so if one gets away from you it’s a more dangerous projectile.