(Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY)
As New Year's approaches here's a tip: Everything you learned from the movies about Champagne is wrong. A big pop when the cork slips out? Wrong. A surge of Champagne from the bottle? Wrong. Filling up the glasses right away? Wrong. Those lovely flat glasses from the 1930s? Wrong.
Right - and safe - is drinking cold Champagne from a bottle that has been properly opened, out of an upright Champagne flute (flat glasses let too much of the gas that gives bubbly its fizz escape).
Whether you're trying this at home or celebrating at an office New Year's party, the basics matter.
VIDEO: How can opening Champagne bottle be dangerous?
To start, the bottle should be chilled for at least several hours in the refrigerator, said Douglass Miller, a professor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Experts put the ideal temperature at between 39 and 48 degrees. Cold Champagne is less likely to spurt out of the bottle - when you see that in the movies you know they're either drinking warm Champagne or they've been shaking the bottle. "The object is to get it in the glass!" said Miller.
Take the bottle out of the fridge carefully, no jostling or shaking! Next remove the foil coating. Underneath you'll find the wire cage that holds the cork in place. It should take six counterclockwise twists to undo; that's the industry standard, said Miller. (No fair taking bets on how many twists it will take, now that you know.) Miller loosens the cage but keeps it over the cork to avoid an "uncontrolled cork exit."
Next, hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle, making sure it's pointing away from any person or thing that might be injured should the cork pop unexpectedly. "It helps to have a napkin over the top of the cork" both to get a good grip and to keep everything in place, Miller said.
Here's the tricky part that will mark you as an expert: Hold the cork with your fingers and twist the bottle, not the cork. As the bottle turns, the cork will slowly ease out. As it gets closer to the end you'll feel that it's pushing up more and at that point Miller applies "a little bit more downward pressure" with his fingers to control it.
That big Lawrence Welk "pop" that starts so many movie scenes just makes for flat bubbly, say experts. "You want just a 'kiss' of sound," said Sarah Dostert, who spent three years working in the tasting rooms at Korbel California Champagne in Guerneville, Calif. "That big pop 'bruises' the bubbles. Just a tiny little hiss, that's all you want."
That big pop is also dangerous. Each year hundreds of people end up at their eye doctor's office or the emergency room because of Champagne cork injuries, said Monica L. Monica, an ophthalmologist and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Champagne is under tremendous pressure in the bottle, 90 pounds per square inch. A typical bottle of French Champagne can shoot a cork 42 feet. Corks have been clocked at 50 mph, and at that speed the blinking reflex isn't fast enough to protect the eye. From the typical opening distance of 23 inches "the cork needs less than 0.05 seconds to reach the eye," according to a paper in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.
That flying cork can fracture the bones around the eye or rupture the wall of the eye itself. If this happens "go immediately to the emergency room. Do not touch the eye," said Monica. It will have to be stitched up and even then in only "a very small percentage of cases will the person see again," she said. Even those who only have their eye scratched by the cork can be left with glaucoma and face higher risk for cataracts.
If all this sounds a little too daunting, or dangerous, there's a work-around. Several companies make what's called a Champagne key. It looks a little like an oversized nutcracker, and grabs the cork as you slowly twist the bottle, keeping it from becoming a dangerous projectile.
However you manage it, once the cork's out it's still not time to pour. "You hold it for about five seconds to let the gas escape," said Miller. Otherwise "it can foam up on you" and all that lovely Champagne will be on the table, not in your glass.
Lest this all seem much ado about nothing, consider the fate of one of Monica's patients in her practice in New Orleans. The young woman had just become engaged and her new fiancé brought her home to meet his parents for the first time on Christmas Eve. Right before they all sat down to eat he said he wanted to propose a toast to his bride-to be.
He took the Champagne bottle, and shook it because he wanted "the loudest pop he could get," Monica said. "She was right next to him, the cork flew out and hit her in the left eye." The young woman bled into her eyeball and was left with life-long glaucoma. The couple did go on to marry but, needless to say, Christmas was ruined.