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Watch Where You Aim That Cork!

TIMES FOOD MANAGING EDITOR

Forget skyrocketing corks and bubbly billowing out of bottles--the former are dangerous and the latter a waste of wine. Such practices are strictly for amateurs; connoisseurs know there’s an art to opening Champagne and sparkling wines safely and with flair.

In the last few years, two devices--a “key” and “star"--have been introduced that ease the task of opening Champagne and sparkling wines. Regardless of whether you use one of these tools or the traditional method, the first step is to remove the foil hood and expose the wire cage and cork. When this is carefully done, the foil below the hood remains neatly intact.

To use a key, place it over the top of the bottle and squeeze until the pins are firmly implanted in the cork (Step 1). Gripping the key and pointing the bottle away from yourself and others, loosen the safety wire with your free hand, then simply twist the bottle and gently pry the cork free.

When opening a bottle with either a Champagne star or by the traditional method, the second step is to remove the wire cage. Place the thumb of one hand firmly over the cork, then untwist the wire (Step 2). Slide your thumb under the wire and continue to hold the cork while removing the wire cage (Step 3).

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If using a star opener, tilt the bottle away, remove your thumb from the cork and quickly place the four legs of the opener in the notches left by the wire (Step 4). Press the star down firmly, then turn it slowly; the pressure in the bottle will push the cork out.

For the traditional method, place a napkin or towel over the cork to cushion your hand, then tilt the bottle at a 45 degree angle (Step 5). Holding the cork and top of the bottle with one hand, twist the bottle, not the cork, with the other. The pressure will begin pushing the cork out, but maintain a firm grip so the cork eases out gently. When appearance is not important, an oven mitt or terry-cloth towel offers better protection for your hand.

The cork should leave the bottle with a small poof, not a loud bang. It’s normal for the stem of the cork to flare after being released.

Champagne and sparkling wines lose their effervescence quickly. However, a spring-loaded Champagne stopper prolongs the bubbles. Press the stopper down (Step 6), then clamp the flanges below the rim on the bottle’s neck.

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Enjoy a safe and happy New Year’s Eve by imbibing only if you’re spending the evening at home or someone else is the designated driver.

Times Wine Writer Dan Berger contributed to this article.

Suggestions for column topics may be sent to Back to Basics, Food Section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.


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