Nothing signals a brand new year, full of fresh starts and endless possibilities, than uncorking some bubbly. For extra pop, we recommend trying your hand at sabering. Although slicing off the top of a champagne bottle might seem like a feat best left to a pirate or muskateer, we have a few simple pointers to sharpen your technique.
Champagne has a long history of fueling celebrations. Starting in the late 5th-century, French kings held their coronations in the city of Reims in the heart of the Champagne-Ardenne region. Festivities were held before and after the crowning, during which time the famed fizzy libation flowed freely.
The sparkling beverage continued to whet the whistles of merry-makers during the Napoleonic Era. Triumphant in the hard-won Battle of Reims of 1815, the thirsty and victorious French cavalry grabbed bottles of champagne and, from atop their horses, sliced off the tops with their sabers, making the effervescent liquid explode dramatically into the air. The saddled soldiers rode away while guzzling their bottles of champagne, leaving a trail of foam and dust in their tracks.
We suggest staying on terra firma for your first go at sabering. By your side is wine and spirits expert Becky Sue Epstein, author of Champagne: A Global History, who shared her top tips for mastering the art of sabrage.
What will we need to properly saber a bottle of champagne?
It’s important to have the right tool. Use a saber that is specifically made for opening champagne. Perhaps the knife has a special handle or a unique shape. You want to have something fairly well balanced, since you’ll be holding the bottle in one hand and the knife in the other. You don’t want anything too long or unwieldy.
The champagne bottle should be chilled in an ice bucket or refrigerated for at least two to four hours to ensure that the glass is brittle and the liquid is as carbonated as possible. Cold champagne has a controlled stream of foam that will expel from the bottle, whereas a warm or room temperature bottle will explode dangerously.
Can you walk us through the steps of sabering?
First, prepare all your items: a bottle of chilled champagne, knife and flutes at the ready.
Unpeel the foil and remove the wire cage, so that the neck of the bottle is completely exposed.
Find the crease, or the seam, where the two halves of the bottle meet. The bottle’s weakest point is where this seam meets the lip. This is where you will strike.
Prepare your knife. Run it along the seam to get your bearings.
Hold the bottle in one hand at 45 degrees to the floor. With your other hand, place the blade flat along bottle, so that as much of the surface of the blade will hit the bottle, creating more leverage and force.
Do not hesitate, and do not chop or cut. Swiftly and surely, glide the knife along the seam and right through the lip with the force of slamming a door. This motion will take the top right off the bottle.
Leave the bottle at 45 degrees for a few seconds, so that the pressure of the carbonated beverage pushes out any miniscule shards of glass in a foamy stream, but also for the dramatic effect. Then, bring your champagne flutes to the bottle and fill ’em up!
Disclaimer: If you are going to try sabering yourself – there are sabering experts that you can hire – do it outside where you have plenty of room, and practice with a cheap bottle beforehand.
Because, as Napoleon would agree, if there’s one thing worse than botching a sabering job it’s wasting good champagne. Here’s what happened when our team had a go:
Do you have your own techniques for champagne sabering? We’d love to hear them…
Leading image courtesy Ville Miettinen via Flickr.
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