The Art of Sabrage – Written by a Commander Sabreur (registered in France) and lover of great wines and champagnes Lynda Woodin.
The noble art of Sabrage was an outlandish tactic first employed by Napoleon’s cavalry. Two hundred years ago, dashing young cavalry officers in the French Army would slice the cork off the Champagne bottle with the sabre, rather than put themselves to the effort of removing the wire basket and easing the cork out. They used their weapon of choice, the sabre, to behead not only the enemy, but also the bottles of champagne they quaffed with victorious jubilance. While it may seem to be an impatient method of decapitating your bubbles, Sabrage is worth mastering if an upcoming celebration is deemed worthy of such a fanfare. This is now a days used at special events and particularly at weddings. Opening a bottle with a sabre adds to the occasion and makes it all the more memorable. We expect all Sabreurs to pass on this message to Champagne lovers throughout the world.
The art of Sabrage is meeting the glass annulus at the top of the bottle below the cork with a firm tap of the sabre’s edge, at the weakest point of the glass seam in the bottle.
There may be no dashing dragoons, happy hussars or lascivious lancers to sabrage the bottle, but many associations around the world continue to enjoy the proud tradition. The caveau we belonged to and enjoyed for many years having dinners and parties where it was compulsory to imbibe in bubbles, was based in the UK, and was known as “ The confrerie du Sabrador “ Each caveau de Sabrage has a Maître to show you how to do this art.
The order has a serious purpose in promoting the enjoyment of Champagne and the lifestyle of fine wining and dining. One of the objectives is to recruit Caveaux de Sabrage where one can celebrate this great wine by chopping the top off the bottle and consuming the contents with vigour.
The sabre of course is a good substitute for the sprained wrist and napkin when opening the bottle and, more especially, a very spectacular way of joining a confraternity devoted to CHAMPAGNE! And this applies throughout the world
Are you willing to give champagne Sabrage a go? We’ve got the essential tips to help you perform this precision move with Napoleonic flair.
Remove the foil to reveal the cork and wire basket. Carefully remove the wire basket (muselet) around the cork (bouchon).
Next, find one of the two seams along the side of the bottle nearest the annulus (glass lip just below the wire basket) by rubbing the tips of your fingers on the glass. At the same time, you should remove the foil, which could impede the sliding movement of the saber. (When you become an experienced sabreur, this step will not be necessary).
With your arm extended, hold the bottle firmly by placing the thumb inside the punt at the base of the bottle. Be sure the neck of the bottle is pointing up and away from you and spectators.** A safety tip: Drap a towel/linen napkin over the bottom portion of the bottle should the bottle explode. The towel will help to contain the glass.
As a further safety precaution, remember that the chilled bottle is most likely wet from condensation. As a result, the bottle becomes slippery and if you are holding the bottle by the neck, as usual, the bottle could slip in your hand and the severed glass neck of the bottle could cut your hand…it’s happened to me more than once. So, when carrying newly sabraged Champagne bottle, be sure you hold it with the thumb in the punt (at the bottom of the bottle) and the remaining fingers underneath the bottle. When pouring and carrying larger bottles add your other hand at the neck area with a cloth towel for additional traction and leverage.
Caveat: Based on my experiences, some bottles don’t sabrage as well as others. All brands of French Champagne work very well (thicker glass) as does Methode Champenoise.
The first time I tried Sabrage in France the whole bottle exploded to everyone’s amusement. Follow our steps to ensure Sabrage success, and trust us, it isn’t as hard as it might seem:
1. Choose your weapon.
Ensure you have a well-chilled bottle of champagne (not sparkling wine as the glass quality isn’t up to par) to work with. Set the bottle upside down in a cooler of ice and water for a minimum of 5 minutes prior to ensure as clean a break as possible. In keeping with tradition, it’s important to use a sabre that is quite solid as this helps to keep it in one position.
2. Disrobe the champagne.
Strip it of its shiny foil and reattach the protective cage to the top part of the cork and lip. You want to up your chance of sabrage success by ensuring an even surface. A clean break is the aim here.
3. Locate the seam.
This involves seeking out one of the two vertical seams that run up the side of the bottle towards the lip. Where the seam meets the lower lip is where you should be aiming your Sabre. This is because the bottle is at its weakest point and by hitting the lip you will get a better cut in the glass.
4. Get a grip.
Grasp the bottle firmly around the base and place your thumb inside the punt, at an angle of 45 degrees. Ensure the bottle is dry before beginning, as any bottle moisture could result in a slip of the hand. Point the neck up and away from any thirsty spectators, windows and family heirlooms. It is better to try to do this either in your garden away from where the domestic animals will wander, or on the patio against an area which is easy to clean up
5. Commit and conquer.
Much like playing a backhand in tennis, run your sabre along the neck a short way towards your body. Then in one steady movement, move the sword back towards the top of the bottle, striking the sweet spot between seam and lip precisely (not too hard or risk shattering the glass). Make sure your arm is extended. The cork will, with a small ring of glass around it, shoot off the end of the bottle. Expect it to fly for a good 5 metres if executed correctly. Rush to collect the cork with the glass collar and keep it as a momentum!
6. The aftermath.
Have plenty of flutes on hand to catch the spilling champagne and hope that a fellow reveller captured your Sabrage flair on video. This is also a dangerous time as the bottle of champagne is broken glass! Once you have poured the champagne wrap the bottle in old newspapers and thrown away.
7. Usual questions
Many people ask is there any glass in the bottle of champagne. NO if it has been cut correctly. The gas in the Champagne blows away the small shards of glass. Don’t try this at home with children running around and also its preferable to be shown how to do this the first time its great fun!