Q: Can opening a sparkling wine be dangerous? It seems like flying corks could really hurt someone. —Julia
A: An evening with Champagne can go terribly awry if an improperly opened cork sends you to the emergency room. The American Academy of Ophthalmology claims sparkling wine corks fly up to 50 miles an hour while exiting a bottle, and can cause serious damage. Dr. Arthur Willis, Clinical Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at Baylor College of Medicine, agreed that an airborne cork could cause "eye bleeding," "retinal detachment," "iris damage" and even lead to blindness.
A 2004 British study, funded by Research to Prevent Blindness Inc., found that between 1982 and 1999, 20 percent of bottle related eye trauma in the U.S. was caused by sparkling wine corks. Dr. Willis downplayed the current number of these occurrences, however, as sparkling wine patrons have become more attentive to safety issues, noting, "I haven't seen many of those injuries for the last 10 or 15 years." Common or not, sparkling wine safety is a serious issue so always be sure to follow the basics of bubbly opening:
• Always cool sparkling wine to 45°F or under. It will taste better and be less volatile while opening.
• Keep the metal cage over the cork secure until you are actually ready to open the bottle, and hold down the closure as you release the cage.
• Place a towel over the cork before gently twisting the bottle from the base to slowly eject the cork. Never use your thumb.
• While opening, direct the sparkling wine bottle away from your eyes when removing the stopper, and away from your friends.
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