My father had a unique approach to opening a bottle of Champagne. He’d hem and haw, grit his teeth, mutter to himself and break out in a light sweat. All this before he’d even touched the bottle.
After being treated to this demonstration every Christmas, it became clear to my siblings and me that while it was amusing to watch my father, someone else should learn to perform this task.
Now, after years of being reasonably adept at opening bottles of sparkling wine, it seems to me that it has much in common with training an alpha male dog. As any competent dog whisperer will tell you: You must be the master. As long as the dog learns this, he will give years of loyalty and joy and few, if any, instances of drawing blood. So, here goes with our training and ultimate mastering of the alpha wine bottle.
1. Remember that this most social and celebratory of wines comes in a bottle under approximately as much pressure as a truck tire. The pressure is the result of the carbon dioxide created during the process of fermentation. And, just as any sociable, spirited pup wants to break loose and tear up the draperies, so is this wine just itching to burst from its restraints.
2. Don’t open the bottle until it is well-chilled, between 45 and 55 degrees. Remember that the glass is thicker on these bottles and the contents take longer to chill. Set the chilled bottle firmly on the counter before you. Now, open the door to its “crate” by removing the foil wrapper at the top of the bottle.
3. Making no sudden or jerky movements, pick up a napkin or dishtowel, fixing the bottle with a steady look. Approach without hesitation. Any trepidation on your part will only provide amusement to those who are watching and draw contempt from the bottle.
4. Cover the top of the bottle with the napkin, and grasp it by the neck, tipping the bottle away from yourself and bracing the bottom of the bottle against your body. The bottle now knows you intend to be in control. Next, pull down the wire tab, untwist it and loosen the wire cage. Or take the cage off, but keep the bottle tipped away from you and any onlookers.
5. Just as a good Labrador Retriever’s doggie motto is “no fear,” so should yours be now. Still keeping a firm grasp on the cork, slowly twist the bottle, not the cork. Let the gas in the bottle begin its slow escape as it gradually pushes the cork out of the bottle.
6. Some champagne corks are simply going to be harder to open than others. At times you might be tempted to discard the towel and just wrestle with the cork, showing anger and irritation in the process (analogous to kicking the dog). It means the bottle has won and will eventually let loose its cork with an explosive “pop” and even perhaps gush out wine.
You may think this is ever so much more fun. If so, then go ahead and pour that wine all over your guests’ heads, pretending your team just won the NBA championship.
Ah, but if the cork comes out with a breathy, gentle sound, you have prevailed. This is a good, well-behaved wine that hasn’t gone to waste, one that will bring joy and contentment to your friends, and won’t wet the carpet.