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Opening your Champagne

Champagne, like all great wine, deserves to be opened with special care and attention. The uncorking of the bottle is part of the ritual of serving Champagne as a celebration wine, enjoyed as much by the Master of Ceremonies as his guests.


Make sure you have everything you need on hand before you start: the chilled bottle placed in an ice bucket or a cooler bag; empty glass; clean napkin; and for those recalcitrant corks, a corkscrew and pincers, preferably the kind used by sommeliers or better still, a pair of Champagne cork pliers (sturdier and contoured to fit snugly over the cork).

Remember not to shake the bottle (to avoid overflow) and to hold the body of the bottle rather than the neck (which will warm up the Champagne). If the bottle has been properly chilled beforehand, all that remains now is to remove the cork.  What follows is an explanation of how to open Champagne like a professional — how little or how much of this you apply at home is up to you.

To open the bottle, remove it from the ice bucket (or cooler bag) and wipe it dry with the napkin (which may come in useful again later — see below).   Bottles chilled in an ice bucket should then be turned upside down once or twice (being careful not to shake them) to ensure an even temperature throughout. If not, the first glass will contain less cool wine from the bottleneck, much to the disappointment of the host who is invited to take that important first sip.

1 - Present the bottle to your guests so they can admire its elegant labelling from all angles.

2 - Untwist the metal loop to loosen the wire muzzle, then carefully separate the strands that hold the cage in place.  On some bottles the loop is directly visible, while on others only its outline is visible under the foil wrapping.  Sometimes you have to feel for it with your fingers.  If the foil is particularly thick, scrape away the foil with your fingernail until you find it, but otherwise it is considered unnecessary and inelegant to remove the foil. The loop usually unwinds anti-clockwise but check as on some Champagne brands it unwinds in the opposite direction.

3 - Now, with the cork still partially held in place by the muzzle, give it an almost imperceptible twist to judge its fit. Generally speaking, the tighter the cork, the shorter the time it has spent in the bottle. You can never rule out the risk that the cork will come flying out of the bottle when you remove the muzzle — as so often happens with the peg-like corks typical of very old bottles.

4 - For a tight-fitting cork, once the strands of the muzzle have been separated, remove it together with its foil cap, using your finger as a hook to pull the loop at the base of the muzzle, meanwhile holding down the cork with your thumb as a precaution.  For a loose-fitting cork, leave the wire cage in place until you are ready to release the muzzle, foil cap and cork in one go.  In either case, proceed as follows:

5 - Hold the bottle in one hand at a 30°-45° angle. This will facilitate extraction and prevent the Champagne from overflowing. Be careful to point the bottle away from yourself or any bystanders — you don’t want any accidents.  Meanwhile, keep the thumb of your other hand on top of the cork, with your forefinger wrapped around the cork itself and the other fingers holding the bottleneck.

6 - Slowly turn the bottle, if necessary rocking the cork gently with your thumb and forefinger to get it moving. Keep your other three fingers around the bottleneck and wait for that small sigh of escaping gas that tells you the cork has released. If the cork won’t budge, turn the bottle holding it by the base, and if that doesn’t work loosen the cork with a pair of Champagne pliers and remove it by hand.

7 - Wipe the bottleneck, either with the napkin you used earlier or with the miroir (the surface of the cork that comes into contact with the wine).  Keep the bottle at an angle, giving it a slight twist to prevent dripping.

8 - Pour a taste for the host, filling the glass about one third full to allow a proper appreciation of the Champagne, starting with its temperature.  When catering for a crowd, check the wine yourself before serving.

This is the only way to open a bottle of Champagne safely: controlling the cork with your thumb while steadying the bottle with the other fingers. Holding down the cork with the palm of your hand may be popular but it does not work.  Nor does turning the cork instead of the bottle as there is less grip, less control and a strong possibility that the cork will break. 

You can always loosen the cork with a pair of pliers, then finish the job by hand as is commonly done when uncorking several bottles. With a really intractable cork, try immersing the bottleneck in hot water for a couple of minutes, keeping your thumb on the cork the whole time.  This can also work for broken corks or you can simply use a corkscrew, in which case it is best to wrap a napkin around the bottleneck just in case it breaks (unlikely but not impossible).

Source : Union des Maisons de Champagne

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