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Inside Knowledge: How to Serve Champagne

How to serve Champagne like a professional?

In Short:
Open champagne safely by pointing the bottle away from everyone, holding it securely once the cage is removed, then twisting the bottle not the cork.

Opening a bottle of champagne is still the easiest and most effective marker of any celebration. There’s a palpable thrill in unwrapping the foil, removing the wire cage and then easing out the cork. A proper bottle of champagne still feels synonymous with momentous events and unexpected joy - from a triumph on the F1 track to a birthday celebration for an elderly relative, there are very few situations that won’t be improved by picking up something truly special from the Champagne region.


However opening a bottle of expensive champagne can be fraught: if your method of removing the cork means half of the contents of the bottle end up on the floor, is that a good use of a bottle? Similarly, if a loud pop and a cheer is all that you’re after, does it really matter what’s in the bottle? And that’s before someone starts brandishing a ceremonial sword and insisting that they’ve watched a Youtube video on the mysterious art of “sabrage”.


Luckily, it’s not as hard as you might think - follow these simple rules and you’ll soon be opening all your Champagne like a pro. For safety reasons, make sure that you keep your hand on the cork at all times, loosen the cage rather than remove it completely, and never point the uncaged cork towards anyone. Instead of a surprise pop, twist the bottle, not the cork, holding onto the punt (the divet in the bottom of the bottle). Keep a firm grip using a napkin or a dry tea towel to make sure the slippery bottle doesn’t escape. The sound you’re looking for is a relieved hiss - like a breath outwards, rather than a sharp exclamation. The slower the separation, the more successful the result. Once the cork has been successfully removed, hold the bottle at a slight angle for a few seconds before returning it to the upright position.


If you do insist on trying sabrage (removing the upper part of the bottle neck with a sword or large knife), make sure you practice first. Nothing will ruin the vibe of a special event than someone accidentally cutting a bottle in half, or sustaining an unfortunate hand injury. Sabrage has been practised since Napoleon began marking victories with this sparkling flourish. Our best tip is to firstly trace the bottle with the sword beforehand to find the welding line, then rub the sword along the seam to weaken it further. You are looking to strike at the weakest point with a clean blow. Note you can use a large kitchen knife if a more elaborate weapon can’t be found - although at this point we would question whether you would be better off simply opening the bottle in a more conventional manner.


The key to perfect champagne preparation is to make sure the champagne is not too cold but has been sufficiently chilled. Keep it in the sweet spot between seven and ten degrees for optimum results. Buy double the ice you think you will need (available in your local Majestic store) and add cold water into the chiller to allow for more rapid cooling by increasing the surface area. 


Make sure you leave enough time for the bottles to chill. A good proviso is to think about putting the bottles to chill at least an hour before your guests arrive (This also means you’re not stuck stuffing bottles of expensive champagne into a freezer, only to find at a later date that you have merely created some very expensive wine-lollies). Also make sure your glassware is up to scratch - an elegant flute is fine for those who love bubbles, but you may appreciate the flavour of a vintage bottle more in a tulip-shaped white wine glass.


The best way to serve a bottle of champagne is to remind your guests what they’re drinking with a visual clue (i.e. make sure they can see the label) and hold the bottle at the base (i.e. don’t let your warm hands alter the temperature). Take your time while pouring into a glass tipped slightly onto its side. If you’re not hosting, you can offer the host a taster unless they defer to someone more knowledgeable. Then, it’s traditional to serve all guests going round the table clockwise, returning to the host to fill their glass. But don’t get tied down by ritual - just use the tips above to get the most out of any bottle, and let the celebrations begin.