Recently, in a feature on one of the bigger TV channels, we were able to view how a celebrity attempted to sabre a bottle of Champagne with the sharp blade of a sabre. It was not frightfully successful, to put it mildly. At least ten slashes were needed before he succeeded. A correct technical description follows below. Remember that safety is of the essence.
French and Russian cavalry traditionally opened their victory chamapagne with their sabres to celebrate their successes, quite simply by knocking off the top of the bottle with a light (!) blow against the collar that is always to be found underneath the little steel halter holding down the cork. It is a very effectful way of greeting the guests, and actually not as difficult as it sounds. All that is needed is a sabre or a large, heavy knife, as well as a bit of practice, naturally. The pressure in the bottle blows away any possible slivers of glass that may have been produced, so there is no danger either in serving the wine from the slashed-off bottle.
Do not sabre wines other than those manufactured according to the traditional method, with a second fermentation in the bottle. The bottles containing these wines are made of a more powerful material, so that if one misses slightly with the sabre they will not be dashed into a thousand pieces. The bottle must be well chilled before being sabred. It takes a couple of hours in the fridge before the bottle is chilled enough, so plan in plenty of time.
PREPARE THE BOTTLE
Remove the foil from the cork and halter before you attempt to sabre. The pressure in the bottle is high, and if the foil is left on, glass and wine may spout out in the direction of the person sabring the champagne instead of straight forward. Study the bottle carefully. It is namely cast in two identical sections. Take care that the seam points upwards to twelve o’clock. One should not use the sharp edge of the sabre but the blunt one in order to apply more weight to the blow. Hold the bottle at an angle of 45 degrees and keep it at that angle when it has just been sabred. Less wine actually escapes then, compared with if the bottle is held upright. What happens at the moment of impact is that the accumulated force seeks to focus straight down to the centre of the bottle’s base (the punt) and then straight up through the mouth of the bottle. The effect of this, if you keep the bottle at an angle of 45 degrees, is that the force is impelled towards a larger surface measured in square centimetres, and the result is neater and above all drier!
AIM and ATTACK
Aim the bottle in some non-dangerous direction, and stand on a surface where you can spill a certain amount of wine. Preferably wear a leather glove on the hand holding the bottle, in case you miss so that the whole bottle breaks into pieces. Also take care that nobody is standing too close when you swing the sabre. It is the bottles, not the guests, that are to be sabred! Start by striking quite lightly with the sabre against the little glass collar on the neck of the bottle. Then strike a bit harder and the neck will soon break off. One does not need to strike at all hard for it to succeed. I usually say that you do not need strength to sabre neatly and elegantly but rather balance and timing. Use the same rhythm and movement as you do when you have a number 9 iron in your hand or when you are going to hit a decent backhand in badminton.
Take care that no children get near the sabred bottle. The cut is very fine and the edge is razorsharp. The velocity at which the cork flies out is almost 30 km/h so hold on to your hat! The pressure in the bottle blows away any possible slivers of glass so there is no danger either in serving the wine from the slashed-off bottle. Accept the acclamations of your guests and enjoy a neatly opened and delicious Champagne.
A CORRECT ’SOMMELIER’S OPENING’
Ice bucket half-filled with ice and water
• Fetch the bottle and place it in the ice bucket.
• Wipe the bottle if necessary.
• Introduce the Champagne to the guests with the lable clearly visible. Articulate the name and vintage distinctly.
• Cut off the lead with the knife on the corkscrew in order to create an even edge. Do not leave any rubbish on the table but see that it disappears into the pocket of your apron.
•Take off the halter and the little metal disc (or leave the halter on if the cork is on its way out). Angle the bottle all the time. Hold your thumb as protection against the cork.
• Get a firm hold of the cork and twist the bottle with the other hand. The cork will be forced out by the pressure. If the cork is very tight one may use champagne tongs.
• Let the cork slip out of the bottle without an explosion! Continue holding the bottle at an angle so that the wine does not froth over! Dry off the bottle mouth with a clean napkin. N.B. Champagne should be tasted like all wine!
• Serve with a folded napkin round the bottle. Fill the glasses to at most two-thirds once or several times. Magnum bottles are served with a napkin and your thumb inside the base of the bottle.
Serving temperature: 6-8 degrees centigrade.