Heads Up!

Written by the Imperial Imbiber Lyn Farmer
Betty Balfour in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1928 silent film Champagne [Photo: Hitchcock Champagne 1928]

Champagne has always been marketed as a wine for celebration, and at VeritageMiami we are no different – we are going to celebrate the closing brunch of VeritageMiami on October 9 with a boatload of Champagne (both pink and white) from Perrier-Jouët, a house strongly identified with the Belle Époque age of elegance. I’ve always maintained the importance of remembering that Champagne is first and foremost a wine and only secondly a vehicle for celebration, but that has never kept me from accepting a glass at a party. Now, I learn that one group of Champagne lovers is celebrating a bit too much.

The latest wine news out of England offers a warning to enthusiastic fans of both Champagne and cricket. The Marylebone Cricket Club, while presiding over a sport with perhaps the most obscure and difficult to comprehend rules of any game known to man, is adding one very simple rule for its members: stop popping Champagne corks from the stands and firing them onto the pitch (what we Colonials would call the “playing field.”)

While we Americans would be lost without the possibility of having alcohol at our professional sporting events, the Brits (who make some of the greatest beers, gins and whiskies in the world) have been much more circumspect and in 2006, the International Cricket Council, the governing body of cricket, banned alcohol from all venues. All except one, that is, the exception being Lord’s in St. John’s Wood, London, where many consider cricket to have been founded.

The cricket pitch at Lord’s in St. John’s Wood, London. [Photo: Lord’s]

Lord’s is owned by Marylebone Club, so it fell to the club’s governors to instruct their 18,000 members on some “rules of the lawn.” In a newsletter mailed to members, the club noted, with typical British aplomb, that players on visiting teams were frequently distracted when fans fired Champagne corks at them (presumably there are some Prosecco corks in there too, coming in from the cheaper seats). Of course, with British politeness, the message was quite circumspect. It read, “In recent times the practice of some members and other spectators opening bottles of Champagne in such a way as to allow corks to be projected on to the outfield has been criticised (sic). Any items which are aimed at the playing area may cause a potential hazard to fieldsmen, and this point has been made formally to the club.”

Having grown up in Minnesota and watching my neighbors in Wisconsin throwing wedges of local cheese on the field of Green Bay Packers football games, I can only admire the Champagne taste of the cricket fans as well as the politesse with which this stern warning was delivered. And as a wine educator, I must make a few notes here for your own bottle opening exploits:

  1. Loosen the wire “cage” but leave it over the cork. Some folks like to take off the cage, but a bottle that has been shaken even a little will pop out the cork as soon as you take your thumb off, so to be safe, I leave the cage on the cork.
  2. Grasp the cork (and cage) tightly and always turn the bottle, not the cork – turning the cork runs the risk of twisting off the bulbous top and then you’d have to use a corkscrew to get out the remaining cork, not a happy prospect since the pressure in that bottle is the same as in the tire of a 30-ton truck (or, if you’re British, a 30-tonne lorry).
  3. Keep a good grasp on the cork as you loosen it – the pressure in the bottle should slowly force out the cork – don’t pop it, let it come out gently (a poetic French friend says it should open with a contented sigh).
  4. Popping the cork risks damage to friends (even if they aren’t cricket players) and perhaps even worse, means losing some of the fizz in the bottle. We wouldn’t want that.
A few easy steps and voilà! [Photo: Comité Champagne]

In all seriousness, it’s important to manage the cork of a sparkling wine bottle because it achieves a good deal of velocity and impact if not held in place by a sturdy grip. And the best way to get a sturdy grip? Practice, which of course means drinking more sparkling wine. Let’s get to work!

By | 2017-10-30T10:26:33+00:00 September 8, 2016|