SAN FRANCISCO — It might be a traditional form of pop art, but sending a champagne cork shooting to the ceiling is the wrong way to enjoy a bottle of bubbly during the holidays.
"The cork should come out with a discreet sigh, not a boisterous bang," said Polly Havjovsky, spokeswoman at Domaine Chandon, one of most prestigious makers of sparkling wines in Northern California's Napa Valley.
The bubbles and wine are lost by popping a cork, she said. The best method is to place a towel or napkin over the bottle's head, unwind and remove the wire hood, tilt the bottle away at a 45-degree angle and twist the bottle, not the cork.
Although like most wines, the best thing to do with an open bottle of bubbly is to finish it. F. Korbel Bros., the nation's oldest producer of premium champagnes established in 1882, has developed a reclosure cap that has become a popular gift for only $3.50.
"You can now recork a champagne bottle and have it three days later," said Michelle Hunter, spokeswoman at the Guerneville, Calif., enterprise. "We also have a very aggressive restaurant 'by the glass' program where a variety of fine champagnes can be offered to customers because of the recorking procedure."
Hunter said the annual growth rate for premium champagnes has been over 10% for the past three years.
"I think this growth can be attributed to the consumer's interest in lighter beverages and foods plus the fact that people no longer view champagne as something they only drink at a special occasion," she said. "One of our favorite comments is champagne makes any occasion special."
At the Hanns Kornell Champagne Cellars in St. Helena, Calif., Ted Gall, shipping director and 14-year employee of the winery said a dessert champagne called Muscat Alexandria is being introduced this winter.
"It's a sweet champagne but drier than usual for this type of grape," he said. "We feel it will be a delightful champagne for the holiday season. You take these marketing opportunities this time of the year."
Gall said Kornell is more quality than quantity oriented and gave some hints on how a consumer can test for a good champagne.
"A real good champagne should be dry and have a crisp taste. It should have a clear, straw color and the bubbles should be small. They should rise slowly to the surface, indicating a good marriage with the wine it has been aged with for a number of years. You don't want the wine dark in color, which indicates oxidation."
Domaine Chandon, Korbel, and Kornell all use the traditional "methode champenoise" developed by Dom Perignon in the late 17th Century and where the sparkling wine is blended, fermented, aged and shipped in the same bottle the consumer buys it in. They also do about one-third of their business during the Thanksgiving-to-New Years holiday period.
According to the California Wine Institute, consumption of sparkling wines in the United States reached 28.4 million gallons in 1984 and has had an annual compounded growth rate of 7.2% since 1979.
Back at Domaine Chandon, visitors are given a free "User's Guide to Sparkling Wines," which spells out some things not to do when faced with a good bottle of champagne. For instance, it's technically called sparkling wine and not champagne, the latter term being reserved for that region of France that pioneered the drink.
Other things not to do include:
--Don't stir a glass of sparkling wine with a swizzle stick. That disperses the wine's aroma and its bubbles.
--Don't smash a bottle of premium sparkling wine against a ship about to be launched. Drink the good stuff.
--Don't sip bubbly from a saucer-shaped glass, a tradition that started when Marie Antoinette insisted in having a glass formed in the shape of her own breast. A tulip-shaped glass is best for capturing the bouquet of the wine.