There are things in life that we are all just expected to know how to do, nobody teaches us and we know nobody to ask. The thought of failure or embarrassment fill us all with a sense of dread and we all recall our first time and how badly we performed looking back with hindsight and experience more practice gives. One of these times of the year is today, when people enjoy popping a cork and sharing a glass of a bubbly. It’s Valentine’s Day.

Different countries and cultures have different ways of commemorating the life and martyrdom of this man whether he was a third century AD priest in Rome or Bishop of Terni, he is closely associated with the celebrations of February 14, as well as being the patron saint of the Greek island of Lesbos.

One of these terrible pressure to perform often occur for the first time on this day for many, and so in a spirit of assistance and a desire to help performance rise with confidence I would like to give freely tips on how to successfully and confidently get the cork out of a bottle of sparkling wine without making a show of yourself.

Let’s make no doubt about it, there are folks who are very apprehensive about this task and remain so for a long time. I hope this helps you in your tasks this Feb 14 and beyond.

Back to physics

First a little bit of physics. There is quite a lot of gas pressure in that bottle. Champagne corks have a pressure the same as a bus tyre inside, that’s why there is a cage around it. If it hits an eye, it’ll hurt. If it hits delicate glass wear or ornaments, they’ll break. If it hits your beloved, you’ve blown it. Also when removing cork, bubbles rise directly upwards, so tilting bottle stops them shooting out the opening.

If you are really worried, then open the bottle in another room and don’t let anyone see you. Stand the bottle up, take off the foil and uncage the cork. Place a tea towel over the cork and hold the bottle in one hand and gently pull at the cork. It doesn’t take much pulling as the gas will force it. There will be a satisfying pop noise and then you can present and pour. Not text book, but cork out, disasters averted and dignity left intact.

If you are feeling a little ready to follow the sequence then there is a far more orthodox system, that involves knowing a few tricks.

To avoid the wine spurting out on a gushing foam imitating a sports celebration the bottle needs to be cold enough not to do this. Keep it in a fridge for at least three hours and move it around carefully. Shaking it about isn’t advised ever. Unless you’ve just won something awesome!

Next the foil wrap, look carefully and you’ll see a rip off tab. Use it and remove the foil and place it down carefully.

Then the next job is removal of the wire cage. If you are left handed insert left where it says right! Hold bottle in left hand tightly but gently too. Look at the cage and you’ll see a little loop/circle of the wire folded over onto the side of the bottle’s neck. Gently bend it to 90˚ and hold it between thumb and index finger. It will come off with, count them, six half twists anti-clockwise. As you remove the cage, keep your thumb on the top of the cork, just in case of premature unexpected cork ejection. It can happen and can be embarrassing.

Photo credit: Joshua Chun.

Style and panache

So now to get that cork out with style and panache. Slide your left hand down to the wide part of the bottle and hold the cork firmly in your right hand. Tilt the bottle to about 30˚. Hold the cork and turn the bottle clockwise and downwards. The bottle should leave the cork. The noise of a well separated cork and bottle should be quiet as a sigh. A breath of air leaving restrictive clothing.

Finally one very important piece of etiquette. At the bottom of the bottle you’ll find an indentation. It is called the punt. It is not, I repeat, not where your thumb goes. Never ever shove, stick or generally insert at all your thumb up a punt. Ever. Pour the wine by holding the bottle around the wide part of the bottle. No thumb up the punt, please

As for pairings, well the very best parings for good sparkling wine is fine company, and another bottle. Happy Valentine’ Day.

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