The party had just begun, and our hosts Chris and Krissie produced a frigid bottle of Bollinger and a gleaming steel sword. “What’s that for?” I asked, while nodding at the weapon. “Oh, we saber all our Champagne here,” Chris said nonchalantly. Soon, corks were flying in their backyard, and an unforgettable evening ensued. Popping the cork from a Champagne bottle is festive. Cutting off the end with a saber is remarkable drama.
While it seems an impossible task (what fool would bring a bladed weapon to a pressurized glass bottle?) sabering makes sense once you understand the goal is to knock the top off the end of the bottle, rather than slicing it away laterally. Sabering relies not on sharpness, but the force it brings to the lip. Most Champagne sabers have blades that are duller than a Congressional filibuster.
“On average I saber two to three bottles a night,” reports Patrick Cappiello, a managing partner and wine director of Pearl & Ash Restaurant in New York City, which holds a Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator, the sister magazine to Cigar Aficionado. Cappiello often teaches diners to do the deed themselves, but cautions, sabering can be dangerous. Get a tutorial from an expert before trying this yourself.
“The bottle should be really cold,” Cappiello instructs. You’ll lose some wine (a cold bottle minimizes loss), but what you spill serves to wash away any bits of glass from the sundered bottle. Remove the foil completely as the seam on the side of the bottle is a makeshift guide for the blade to follow.
The cage around the cork is removed as well, and “that’s when it becomes dangerous,” says Cappiello. Without the cage the cork is free to fly off, even without your assistance. Treat uncaged bottles with great respect. Never point the cork at yourself, anyone else or anything you wouldn’t want broken. Cappiello sabers inside a crowded restaurant, but this is something for a beginner to perform outside. Eye protection is a must, as is a towel over the hand that will hold the bottle.
The impact and follow through are key. “You want to contact the bottle on the glass overhang,” says Cappiello. “Bring the back of the sword up, almost at a 45-degree angle to the glass.” The blade glides along the bottle in a smooth motion—do not chop—as you slide it firmly toward the lip. “Catch it on the sweet spot,” he says. “Follow through is really what it is about.”
The glass top of the bottle—cork contained inside—will fly out, along with a bit of Champagne. Your guests will applaud, and you will look the hero.
While the back edge of a knife can do this job, going fancy adds pomp and circumstance. Cappiello wields an overlong, dramatic sword he found on ebay. Laguiole makes a Champagne saber, as does Fox Knives of Maniago, Italy. The latter’s (pictured) boasts an ornate hilt and a 16-inch blade.