The Nobel Art of Sabering Champagne
Here is a step-by-step guide to The Noble Art of Sabrage. If you follow these steps you will never fail to accomplish the task and do it safely*.
First, the bottle “MUST” be cold. Take a chilled bottle of champagne, not ice cold but suitable for drinking (in the fridge at least one hour prior to sabrage.) The ideal temperature is between 45-48°F or 7-8°C. Why? It is the pressure and the vibration that will “cut” the glass. A warm bottle has more pressure, which is begging for problems.
A tip: Don’t attempt to chill the bottle using an ice bucket as the most important part of the bottle (the neck area) is not being chilled properly.
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 – about 30° from horizontal. Make sure no one is in your line of fire or that you are aiming at anything breakable…like a glass window, etc.**
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.
Now, calmly lay the saber flat along the seam of the bottle with the sharp edge (either side works as well) ready to slide firmly against the annulus (glass ring) at the top. Your firm sliding of the saber against this ring is aided by the internal pressure of the bottle, so that the cork flies dramatically away and usually with one stroke of the sword.
When performed correctly, as noted above on a suitably chilled bottle of Champagne, the cork and glass ring will fly away, spilling little of the precious wine and leaves a neat cut on the neck of the bottle. Now, the Champagne is ready to be enjoyed. Not to worry, the internal pressure (100 psi) of the Champagne bottle always ensures that no glass falls back into the bottle making it safe for consumption.
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. For example, Chandon (CA brand) has been a disaster…the glass is too fine. Also, the Roederer Estate brands don’t sabrage well. And avoid brands with “plastic” corks, whenever possible, although I have sabraged many and they work. Korbel and all brands of French Champagne work very well (thicker glass) as does Methode Champenoise types like Asti Spumante, Cava, etc.
*Disclaimer: I do not endorse nor recommend sabering a Champagne bottle, or any other glass bottle, unless you have been properly trained by an experienced sabreur. It can be very dangerous if not done correctly and under the proper conditions.
** Ooops! Read this cautionary tale: Not too long ago, at an upscale resort in Santa Barbara, CA, I was introducing a guest to sabering. He deftly sliced the top off of the bottle…as planned. The cork and the glass bottle neck sailed across the room, and shattered a $3,000.00 bottle of Cognac…not as planned! BIG OOOPS!
Cheers! or in French…Salute! (for more international toasts…click)