How dangerous is your Champagne?

imageThere’s always something truly decadent and wonderful about opening a bottle of Champagne, the anticipation, the occasion; a great event or perhaps a treat.  Yet Champagne and other sparkling wines have a ‘dangerous dark passenger’ (okay I watch Dexter) and are the cause of many injuries and fatalities.

Sparkling wine, particularly those made by the traditional method e.g. the second fermentation has occurred in the bottle you’ve bought, have an unopened pressure of around 6 atmospheres – the same as the tyre pressure in a London Bus no less!!! 19th century cellar workers had to wear heavy iron masks to protect themselves as lots of the bottles exploded.  Nowadays glass making techniques have improved and the average weight of a bottle of wine is usually around 500g (permitted 300-900g) which equates to around 40% of the total weight.  Champagne bottles, however, are usually 900g to cope with the potentially dangerous pressurised fluid they will contain.

IMG_0046Every year 1000s of people sustain eye or other injuries, some fatal, not so much from exploding bottles now, but from the corks themselves.  In fact, more people are killed by flying champagne corks than bites from poisonous spiders!! There are around 2-dozen Champagne-accident fatalities a year and at least one third occur at weddings!  In the US, 20% of eye injuries were apportioned to Champagne corks where some people were permanently blinded.

So what can we do to reduce injury?  Two things.

  • Firstly it’s really important that Champagne and sparking wines are chilled down properly, around 6-10°, prior to opening
  • Secondly open the bottle correctly
    • Remove the foil
    • Keep you hand firmly over the cork and wire whilst unloosening the wire (DO NOT REMOVE THE WIRE)
    • Hold the bottle away from people, windows, glass etc at an angle around 45°
      • Turn the bottle not the cork whilst keeping a good hold and control of the cork/wire as well as good bottle/cork contact
  • There should only be a ‘pffhhh’ sound when opening and no loss of fluid – not a Formula 1 explosion with the loss of half the contents!!

The Interprofessional Committee of Champagne Wine, the industry’s trade association, said it is launching a new standard bottle to cut carbon emissions.

Some Champagne bottles are getting lighter (835g) to go greener so that the transportation requires less fuel.  The Interprofessional Committee of Champagne Wine says the change will cut carbon dioxide output by 8,000 metric tons (8,818 short tons) a year, which it likens to the annual emissions of 4,000 cars.  Based on a 2002 environmental impact assessment, France’s champagne industry has set a target of cutting its carbon footprint by 25% by 2020.

So enjoy your Champagne and be safe!

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