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Betty Balfour in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1928 silent film "Champagne"

Betty Balfour in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1928 silent film "Champagne"

Champagne has always been marketed as a wine for celebration, and the industry has succeeded in part because it is unthinkable to have a serious celebration without Champagne. 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.”)

Lord's Cricket Ground, generally considered the home of Cricket (Photo: Lord's)

Lord's Cricket Ground, generally considered the home of Cricket (Photo: Lord's)

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 governing body of cricket made a ruling that banned alcohol from all venues. All except one, that is, the exception being Lord’s where many consider cricket to have been founded. 

The Marylebone club plays at Lord’s and so it fell to the club to instruct their 18,000 members on some “rules of the lawn.” In a newsletter mailed to members, the club’s governors noted, with typical British reticence, 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:

How To Open A Sparkling Wine Bottle

  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 slightly will pop out the cork as soon as you remove your thumb, 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 they 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 the cork – 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 to remove the cork from a bottle of sparkling wine (in this case, Champagne). Photo: Comité Champagne

A few easy steps to remove the cork from a bottle of sparkling wine (in this case, Champagne). Photo: Comité Champagne

To get an idea of the power of the cork, click below to watch the “Slo-Mo Guys” demonstrating cork popping. They are wrong to say Champagne and Cava (sparkling wine from Spain) are the same thing, but they are right about how fast a cork comes out of the bottle!