Sabrage is the name given to the art of slicing open Champagne with a sabre.The practise dates from the Napoleonic wars when French cavalry officers too impatient to fiddle with Champagne’s wire cages and corks swung their sabres and lifted the top off foaming bottles. It was their Emperor Napoleon who said “in victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it.”
Today there are several societies that will induct you into the mystery of sabrage – for a fee. Wineries making sparkling wines are increasingly ending their cellar tours with impressive demonstrations of sabrage.
In fact anyone can do it, and you do not need a sword. Sabrage is impressive because of the showmanship involved; who would not be awed by the sight of a shining silver sword being waved over a bottle of Champagne?
Because it is actually a trick. Swords are not necessary because the bottle is not cut. There is a weak spot in the neck of the bottle. Tap that weak spot and the intense pressure inside the bottle does the rest, cracking the glass at the neck and shooting the cork, still enclosed in glass, many feet into the air.
To sabrage a bottle you need three things
- A bottle of Champange, Cava or other bottle fermented sparkling wine.
- A straight edge such as a kitchen or butter knife, or ruler
- Plenty of empty space ahead of you.
IMPORTANT: The pressure in a Champagne bottle is around 4 to 6 atmospheres or between 60 to 90 pounds per square inch. That is around three times the pressure in a car tyre and about the same as in tyres on a double-decker bus. A Champagne cork will shoot out the bottle a high speed for more than 20 feet and if it hits a person can kill and would certainly blind someone if it hits an eye. It will break household ornaments, dent furniture and smash windows.
For right handed people (reverse if left handed)
- Take a Champagne bottle and feel for a seam along its length where the two halves of the bottle were joined.
- Remove the foil along one seam.
- Untwist the wire cage and pull it away from the neck ridge. There is no need to remove the cage..
- Hold the bottle in your left hand at a slope with the seam facing upwards and the cork pointing to a large people-free open area.
- Hold the knife or ruler in your right hand and slide it swiftly in one smooth sweeping motion up the bottle along the seam. Focus on a spot a foot ahead of the bottle and intend to slide the knife all the way up the bottle to that point ahead of the bottle.
When the knife hits the lip at the bottle neck the top of the bottle will separate and shoot forward.
Have you tried sabrage? Any questions? Share your thoughts on our forum here.
Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.