Girls love Champagne. Girls love men with Champagne. But I am lead to believe that there is no greater dampener of the mood than an amateurish fumble followed by a cork in the eye and a great fountain of Champagne down your best frock. It is important, therefore, that every gentleman should know his way around a bottle of Champagne and be able to open it swiftly and elegantly without losing any of it’s precious contents.
First we ought to look at the anatomy of a champagne bottle itself. We shall start at the bottom and work upwards.
Punt – At the very bottom of the bottle you will find an indentation in the glass. This is correctly named the Punt. I was once told by a self appointed ‘wine expert‘ that this indentation was there so that waiters could stick their thumb in it in order to serve the wine in a flamboyant fashion. I can assure you that this is not the reason for it being there. It is actually there to give the bottle greater strength in order to be able to cope with the pressure created by the dissolved CO2 in the Champagne which provides the all important fizz. Incidentally there is around 2-3 times the pressure of a car tyre inside a bottle of Champagne (5-6 bar typically).
Shoulder – The shoulder of the Champagne bottle is fairly self explanatory. They come in various profiles depending on the bottle design but the shape does not have any secret meaning.
Neck & Foil – The foil (only part of which is shown in the photo) covers the neck of the bottle and also covers the cork arrangement. It’s purpose is purely to keep the cork clean.
Annulus – The annulus is the rim at the top of the neck. This is important to the closure mechanism as it is the anchor point for the wire cage that holds the cork in the bottle.
Muselet & Cork – Whilst not shown in the uppermost photo, the cork is held in place by a wire cage which has a metal cap at the top. This wire cage is called the “Mesulet” which comes from the French word museler (muzzle).
So, now that we are on intimate terms with the bottle we are in a position to proceed to the next base.
1. First things first the bottle must be properly chilled (and not recently shaken with vigour by one of your jocular pals in some kind of Champagne jape) The ideal temperature for Champagne is around 7 degC (that is 45 degF for both my American friends and my Father, both of whom prefer imperial measurements). Chilling the bottle will prevent any excessive foaming and loss of Champagne and this is due to dissolved gasses being able to dissolve better in cooler liquids. If the champagne is too warn the gas all tries to escape and shoots from the bottle at great force resulting in loss of champagne and loss of important fizz.
2. The next thing to do is to remove the foil. There is generally a little rip tab near the top of the neck which you can pull to cleanly remove the foil that covers the cork and muselet (wire cage) whilst leaving it on the neck of the bottle.
3. The little wire cage then has a small wire loop which needs to be bent downwards so that it is 90 degrees to the neck. This can then be unwound (anticlockwise) to release the cage. When undone, the cage can be removed carefully from the cork. From now on you should be careful to point the cork away from you and others as there is a chance that it could pop if the bottle is either too warm or has been shaken.
4. At this point you can grab the cork in your non-dominant hand (I’m right handed so I use my left hand to grasp the cork). Do not twist or pull the cork or you will get spillage. Instead twist the bottle (this is really important) with your dominant hand. You should feel the cork slowly start to come out of the neck as twist the bottle. Keep twisting the bottle slowly. The idea is to remove the cork as gently as possible and so get a small a pop as possible as you want to retain as much gas in the Champagne as possible. Eventually it will easily and gently pop from the neck.
5. Now stick your thumb over the end and shake hard! No. Don’t do that as that would be stupid. Instead try making portentous comments about nutty notes and accents of bread & yeast and bore, sorry, impress your friends. Thinking about it, don’t do that either. Just pour into glasses and enjoy the occasion whatever it may be.