Sabering champagne requires you to use a special knife-like instrument and striking the bottle’s neck with it in a smooth motion to break the glass and completely remove the cork.
Guests witness the anticipated sabrage and hear that glorious pop that marks their subsequent partaking. Sabering champagne is fun and keeps the tradition alive since the days of Napoleon. It only takes seconds, but it needs a lot of preparation to be executed safely in a theatrical way. If you want to do the honors, then it’s time to learn how to saber champagne.
What You’ll Need
If you don’t have a champagne saber on hand, you can always use anything with a blunt edge such as these:
- Butter knife - Present in perhaps everyone’s kitchen. Make sure to use the dull side and do the same steps as you would with a saber.
- Spoon - This may seem tricky as it has a rounded rather than a flat surface, but the upside is that it is not sharp. Use it however you like, whether you use the scoop or the handle, it works fine either way.
- Wine glass - It’s unconventional but it’s cool. Grip the handle firmly and use the edge of the base to remove the cork. You just need to be careful because a wine glass can also be fragile.
- Sword - If you want to do it the French soldier way, use a weapon. Remember to wield the dull side and hold it firmly to keep the force intact.
How to Saber Champagne
1. Inspect the bottle
Check if the bottle is free of dents or scratches before deciding to saber it. Make sure that it’s in good condition so there are no unnecessary chippings that may mix with the champagne.
2. Keep the champagne cold
When the bottle is cold, its structural integrity is weakened, thereby making it more brittle and easier to saber. Also, the more likely you’ll be successful the first time.
Fill a bucket with ice cubes and dunk the bottle invertedly, ensuring that the neck is fully submerged. Set this aside for 10 to 20 minutes. You can also put the bottle in a wine fridge for a few hours at 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Though this keeps the champagne cold as well, it takes a longer time.
3. Prepare your tools
While waiting for the bottle to chill, lay out everything you need such as the saber, and the towel.
4. Remove the champagne foil
Peel off the foil wrapping so the saber can glide on a smoother surface. While you’re at it, remove the muselet or the wire cage by twisting it until loose.
5. Get the position right
Use the towel to wipe the bottle. Hold the bottle with your non-dominant hand at a 45-degree angle and place your thumb underneath or at the punt while spreading the other fingers around the bottle to secure it.
6. Let the sabrage begin
Locate one of the seams of the bottle. Then, position the edge of the blade on top of that seam.
Keep the wrist straight and the elbow high. Swiftly, strike the neck forward and the bottle should be opened. If you’re not successful on the first attempt, apply a bit more force, and ensure that the blade is touching the bottle’s surface when striking forward. Pour the contents into champagne glasses.
Sabering Tips and Tricks
Know the bottle
Sabrage works best if the champagne is from France. This kind of champagne is made under Methode Champenoise or Method Traditionelle wherein the bottle undergoes a second fermentation process in carbon dioxide, hence, the bubbles. This also means that the glass is specially made thicker for the process to work and to withstand the pressure that the carbon dioxide creates.
During sabrage, the pressure is focused on the neck of the bottle that when a blunt object hits it, the cork and some glass come off clean. Other sparkling wines are also made under the traditional method which is good for sabrage. Doing it with any other kind of bottle will just risk exploding it.
Look out for shards
As mentioned in the first tip, the neck and the cork usually come off clean but you can always check if there are residual glass shards left in the bottle especially if you’re new to the technique. Don’t feel bad if a bit of champagne drips from the aftermath of the pressure because this actually helps in removing shards (if there are any).
The bottle must be dry
After chilling the bottle, it’s normal to have a bit of condensation and this makes the bottle slippery. To avoid any accidents, take a few seconds to wipe the whole bottle.
The seam is crucial
Don’t just position your saber anywhere on the bottle. The seam is very easy to locate and it’s the key to make the act successful as it creates a weakness in the cork that allows it to be removed smoothly.
The best feeling when sabering champagne is when you get it on the first attempt. Your guests will be impressed and the sooner they’ll enjoy the drink. Take a deep breath and swing the blade smoothly with enough force. But don’t be disheartened when you don’t get it the first time because a second or third attempt may be the charm.
Do it in a wide space
When practicing, always do it outside or in a wide area with no valuables present. The cork can fly up to 20 feet and you certainly don’t want to break anything or harm anyone.
Use a rigid blade
The blade of a champagne saber is actually blunt. It doesn’t need to be sharp because it is the force applied to the collar of the bottle that breaks the glass. A sharp blade may just get stuck to the cork or create more glass shards. So, if you’ll use a knife or a sword, make sure to use the backside. There’s nothing to worry about when using a wine glass since the base is dull and rounded.
Why Do We Saber Champagne?
It keeps the tradition alive
In the words of Napoleon, “Champagne! In victory one deserves it, in defeat, one needs it.” A famous story follows Napoleon and his French soldiers drinking champagne whenever they win a battle. Filled with exhilaration, they didn’t waste any second in struggling to open a bottle, so they just used their sabers to break the glass and drink immediately. This tradition can also reflect modern triumphs, that’s why we saber champagnes on special occasions.
It is fun and cool
It may seem intimidating at first but once you get to witness someone do it, you’ll be wanting to do it yourself the next time around. It is undeniably fun because it excites people and brings them together to witness this very brief but uber-cool moment. Plus, you get to handle a saber and feel like a French soldier.
It’s an art
As much as it’s fun, sabering champagne is recognized as a form of art. In fact, there is an organization called Confrérie du Sabre d’Or that is dedicated to this ritual or activity. It’s a means of upholding tradition but it’s also a form of self-expression as it induces joy when you execute it successfully.
It is a Science
The whole process is a wonderful display of science which people tend to overlook. But you appreciate it more once you fully understand the dynamics of how it works. For the curious mind, learning how to saber champagne is not all about mastering the techniques, but the explanation behind doing it. It is fascinating as it is logical.
It marks the start of an occasion
Sabrage is often done during weddings, Christmas, or New Year’s and the sound of the pop is an iconic way to signify the beginning of the event.
In any endeavor you want to pursue, just like in how to saber champagne, practice is the key to achieving it. Don’t think of it as scary, instead, look at it as an exciting historical activity. If you like this tutorial, share it and let us know in the comments!