It was Napoleon Bonaparte’s belief that champagne was necessary both to soothe defeat and celebrate triumph: in other words, necessary at all times.
He was not wrong.
For over a decade, Bonaparte’s armies came, went and moved about the French landscape. In doing so, military men visited and were hosted by estates whose aristocracy presented their guests with the nation’s finest wines. Here sabering was born by the calvarymen who brandished their swords to, most effectively of course, open champagne bottles.
It’s safe to say that today’s sabering events are purely celebratory, and do not require a war or cavalry to be had. And while a proper sword or fancy saber* is also not necessary, there are some important guidelines to follow to ensure that the champagne — and party — pop off without a hitch.
In order to saber champagne safely, take special note of these few points. Make sure that what you are planning to saber, if it’s not specifically a bottle of champagne, is a sparkling wine made via the traditional method. This is very important. There are a few different methods of producing sparkling wines but not all result in the same level of carbon dioxide pressure. The high pressure achieved from the champagne method is necessary to saber a bottle. Anything lower could result in a not-so-ideal situation.
As mentioned before, you don’t need a special tool or highfalutin champagne saber to knock the top off your champagne. You just need something that 1) you can grip firmly, 2) is made from a sturdy material and 3) has a thin but strong and blunt edge (ie. we do not use a sharp blade). There are multiple kitchen utensils that will work just fine including a chef’s or butcher knife (you’ll use the back, dull side of the blade), or even a butter knife. (If you’re incredulous, check out Madeline Puckette’s video How to Saber Champagne… With a Spoon!) The most important thing is that you are comfortable with whatever you choose to use. Practice with your sabering tool on an empty bottle before attempting the final performance.
Prior to sabering, handle your bottle with care. This, of course, means not just avoiding jostling or shaking it, but chilling it properly and with extra attention. If you’ve chilled your bottle in the refrigerator for three or more hours beforehand you’re good to go. However, if using an ice bucket DO NOT rely on a speed chill or even an average bucket chill time… give it a solid hour. (If you’re confused by this see our article detailing the methods for chilling champagne.) Champagne slated for sabering needs to be ultra-thoroughly chilled to firm up the glass and temper the internal pressure (warm champagne is higher in pressure than cold champagne.) Not taking these precautions can result in a bottle primed for exploding. That said, it’s always a good idea to don protective gear such as gloves and eye protection.
Okay, now you’re ready.
The Steps to Sabering Champagne
1. Strip the cork of foil and adjust the wire cage to your preference
Many people will remove the foil entirely, but the better (and safer) option is to loosen it enough to slip it over the lowest lip of the bottle (the one that will be struck) and retighten. This method provides a little extra assurance that should the cork alone prematurely pop, it will still be caught by the cage. If you must take the cage off, make sure to keep your thumb secured over the cork until just before sabering.
2. Hold the champagne bottle from the bottom at a 35-45 degree angle with the vertical seam of the bottle facing you.
3. Position the saber on the bottle so that its point of contact is on the seam and at a 45 degree angle.
4. Pass a few test strokes along the seam to get the feel of the sabering motion. (But make sure to practice on an empty bottle beforehand!) Remember that the striking point will be where the seam of the glass bottle meets the bottle’s lip. This point, on the bottle’s neck, is called the annulus and it is the weakest point of the glass.
5. Ready.. set… go! Remember to hold the bottle firmly and maintain a strong grip on the saber. The key to great sabering is not striking hard, but in a firm and controlled fashion.
6. Allow the initial surge of champagne to spill out to ensure that any loose glass be ejected with the flow. Make sure to closely inspect the first pour for any rogue shards, though if the sabering is done properly there should be a clean break with no fragments.
Revel in the accomplishment, and most importantly, enjoy!