How Not to Shoot Your Eye Out with a Champagne Cork

Champagne cork popping
The tradition of drinking champagne to mark celebrations originated in the royal courts of Europe prior to 1789, where the expensive drink was viewed as a status symbol. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

It's New Year's Eve. You're celebrating! The clock is ticking toward midnight and with each tip of the wine glass your vision and motor control are nosediving toward nonexistent. Suddenly, someone is handing you a champagne bottle. It's time to toast 2012! You untwist the bottle's wire hood, press your thumb against the cork and — pop! Ouch! Who's sober enough to drive to the emergency room?

According to the American Academy of Opthalmology (AAO), too-warm bottles of champagne, coupled with poor cork-removal techniques, cause serious, potentially blinding eye injuries every New Year's Eve.

"[A] cork can fly up to 50 miles per hour as it leaves the bottle, generating a force powerful enough to shatter glass," the AAO warned in a press release. Eyes being softer than glass, flying corks can pack a punch potent enough to cause acute glaucoma, detach your retina or stain your cornea — all of which will quickly restore your double vision to single, but not in the way you might hope.

However, there's hope for all you merry-makers, yet. "If you follow a few simple steps to properly open a bottle of champagne , you can keep your holidays enjoyable and safe," said Kuldev Singh, an ophthalmologist and clinical correspondent for the AAO. [Champagne Facts for the New Year (Infographic)]

The AAO's recommendations are as follows:

1. Make sure sparkling wine is chilled to at least 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degress Celsius) before opening. A warm bottle is more likely to pop its cork unexpectedly.

2. Don’t shake the bottle. Shaking increases the speed at which the cork leaves the bottle, thereby increasing your chances of severe eye injury.

3. To open the bottle safely, hold down the cork with the palm of your hand while removing the wire hood. Point the bottle at a 45-degree angle away from yourself and any bystanders.

4. Place a towel over the entire top of the bottle and grasp the cork.

5. Keep the bottle at a 45-degree angle as you slowly and firmly twist the bottle while holding the cork to break the seal. Continue to hold the cork while twisting the bottle. Continue until the cork is almost out of the neck. Counter the force of the cork using slight downward pressure just as the cork breaks free from the bottle.

6. Never use a corkscrew to open a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine.

Memorize these tips now. You won't know where to find them when the time comes to put them into use. Happy New Year!

This story was provided by Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience. Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover. Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries, then join us on Facebook.

Natalie Wolchover

Natalie Wolchover was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012 and is currently a senior physics writer and editor for Quanta Magazine. She holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Tufts University and has studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with the staff of Quanta, Wolchover won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory writing for her work on the building of the James Webb Space Telescope. Her work has also appeared in the The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best Writing on Mathematics, Nature, The New Yorker and Popular Science. She was the 2016 winner of the  Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award, an annual prize for young science journalists, as well as the winner of the 2017 Science Communication Award for the American Institute of Physics.