Champagne is the go-to celebration drink for every occasion, from a birthday to an anniversary. Correctly popping a champagne cork often takes a little skill in itself, yet that doesn’t stop people from upping the ante and attempting to crack open a bottle using a sword! Anything involving a sword will, of course, have some dangers involved, so to keep your Champagne (and eyes!) safe from sharp objects it is crucial that you get the process of sabrage right.
The act of opening a bottle with a sword came to be during the Napoleonic Wars when the soldiers would dramatically strike the top off Champagne bottles with their sabres during celebrations following their victories. While it certainly isn’t how bottles of Champagne are intended to be opened, using a sabre has now become a symbol of celebration, with sabrage displayed at dinners and events to mark the occasion.
How to Sabre Wine
Pick your bottle and blade
Make the sabrage easier by selecting a bottle of bubbly that comes from France or Spain. The glass used to form bottles from these countries tends to break more cleanly, which will help to keep the rest of the bottle intact and will prevent lots of glass going into the Champagne itself. While a Champagne sabre will, of course, be the best instrument with which to sabre a bottle of Champagne, any solid knife will do. The blunt edge is used for sabrage, so it doesn’t even need to be sharp!
Chill the bottle up to 3 degrees
Cold temperatures make bottles more brittle, which makes them far easier to break. Pop the bottle in the fridge for a few hours before you intend to swipe it open, ensuring it is sufficiently cooled. While you may typically cool your Champagne bottles down in an ice bucket before serving, this will be no good before attempting to sabre it, as it is crucial for the neck to be cool and ice buckets only cool the base. Prepare the bottle by removing the foil wrapper and wire cage from the neck.
Hold the bottle correctly
The bottle should be held at the base, tilted up to a 30-40 degree angle to reduce the amount of Champagne spilt. The bottle should also be pointed well away from people, or things that could get broken, as upon impact the top of the bottle can go flying off, often to between 5 and 10 metres! Make sure that your fingers are well out of the way of the neck as well, as you do not want them to come into contact with any knives!
Find the perfect sabre spot on the bottle
There is a specific spot on the bottle you are aiming for, so don’t just go swinging at the bottle without first locating the thin seam that sits between the lip of the bottle and the vertical seam. This is the point of stress concentration on the bottle, acting as a weak point. When the sabre comes into contact with this particular area, the weak spot will crack, and pressure from the bottle will send the top flying off. Going for this spot will also help to gain a clean break.
Sabre the bottle
Hold the blade with the blunt edge pointing towards the seam, with the knife held flat to the bottle. Draw the sabre back towards your body, then thrust it back towards the seam in a quick and strong movement, striking through to the lip. The cork, with a small ring of glass, will pop off the bottle at speed if it is done correctly.
Pouring the Champagne
Sommeliers experienced in the art of sabrage will be able to perform the act effortlessly, and without spilling a drop of the precious Champagne. For beginners though, it may take a couple of attempts, and some Champagne is likely to overflow from the bottle after the cork comes out. Be prepared with a glass or cup to catch any spilling drink, unless you’re happy to mop up the floor! Some sommeliers practising this method of Champagne opening will also opt to discard the first splash of Champagne, to ensure that any glass that may have accidentally ended up in the bottle has been removed.
If you are making the moment as special as possible by opening your Champagne with a sword, sabre or knife, then it only seems fitting to pour your drink into some superb quality glasses, such as the mouth-blown Champagne glasses from Lehmann Glassware! What are your thoughts on sabrage? Let us know in the comments below.
Image Credit: N Wong
Image Credit: Ville Miettinen