How to crack champagne the right way and impress your guests
In the age of Instagram and TikTok, content-savvy epicureans love a bit of drama. It was, after all, a restaurant that captured a butcher’s glorified pinch of salt on a skillfully sliced steak that created the personality we all know now as “Salt Bae.”
For sommeliers and bartenders, the art of sabering – that is, using a sabre, knife or, in some cases, the base of a champagne flute to forcefully open a bottle of champagne – is become a foolproof extravagant display to captivate their guests with an Instagrammable moment. And while home goers accidentally crushing champagne bottles while trying to saber them with improper technique is an entertaining comedy, the elegance of traditional sabering cannot be overstated. For some pro tips on how to effectively and safely saber a bottle of champagne, we turned to butler Eugene Ball of the St. Regis Bermuda Resort, famous for his evening sabering ritual as the sun sets. each day.
History of sabering and why people saber champagne
“The origins of sabering actually go back to the battles of Napoleon Bonaparte during the French Revolution,” says Ball. “As the most famous version of the story goes, Bonaparte, after one of his wartime battles, said, ‘In victory you deserve it…and in defeat you need it.’ He was talking about champagne, of course. He then struck a bottle of champagne with his saber to open it, and so the ritual was born.
Ball’s origin story is arguably the most popular, but it’s not the only one (as is often the case with booze-tinged tales). Another legend about the origin of sabrage attributes to Napoleon’s cavalry officers, who celebrated a great victory by slapping a bottle of champagne while on horseback. Since the soldiers kept one hand on the reins, uncorking a bottle of champagne proved to be a tedious task, so they used a quick swing of their sabers to open the bottles.
The other variation of the sabrage legend is that the Veuve Clicquot – as in Veuve Clicquot – would give champagne and glasses to Napoleon’s soldiers in payment for the protection of her land. Similar to the aforementioned story, since the soldiers were mounted on horseback with little ability to properly unpack, unplug, and uncork bottles, they used their sabers instead.
Whichever version of the story is true, what we know for sure is that this famous act proliferated in drinking culture, eventually becoming an iconic evening ritual at St. Regis hotels around the world. whole world. “At the St. Regis, the art of sabering signifies the transition from day to night, celebrating the accomplishments of the day,” says Ball. It’s a tradition that was started by John Jacob Astor IV when he opened the first St. Regis in New York City in the early 1900s. From then on, sabering also became associated with the St. Regis as Napoleon himself.
How to crack a bottle of champagne
According to the many viral videos of bottles smashed while drinkers try to crack them open, slashing sparkling wine is a little harder than it looks. Bottle temperature is critical, but so is the type of sparkling wine – wines like champagne, which are made using the traditional method, are best for sabering as they are dosed and undergo secondary fermentation in bottle. That means they have more pressure than, say, Prosecco. It is also important to pay attention to the saber tool, such as a knife, saber or even the base of a champagne flute.
“Before you do anything, you need to make sure the bottle is extremely cold,” says Ball. “My favorite is Veuve Clicquot because it’s most famous for sabering and gives the perfect cut and pop every time. The bottle should be refrigerated for 24 hours at a temperature between 45°F and 48°F (or 7°C and 8°C). The colder the bottle, the more brittle the glass will be. For impromptu celebrations, adding the champagne to a bucket of ice, cold water and about half a cup of salt for about 30 minutes will help the bottle reach the perfect temperature.
“Once the bottle is properly chilled, invert it in ice water 30 minutes before planning to slash it, to create more pressure – this will give it a cleaner cut,” says Ball. “Once you’ve done that, remove the foil and cage – or loosen it and adjust it to sip just above the rim of the bottle – to make sure you’re hitting the bottle and not the metal, which can absorb impact [and cause the bottle to break rather than neatly open].”
Once the bottle is ready, it’s time to choose your combat weapon. “Here at the St. Regis Bermuda, we use Fox knives to slash our champagnes,” says Ball. “Some people at home use kitchen knives or the base of a champagne flute – all you really need is something that generates enough force and is strong enough.” While the latter can do the job just fine, the saber is the most glitzy and nostalgic option, so it’s worth splurging for a special occasion.
To saber the champagne, Ball says to hold the bottle at a 45 degree angle and guide the blade along the seam. Before you jump right in, it’s best to give yourself a few practice strokes, slowly sliding the blade back and forth to line up your strike. “When you’re ready, strike hard and follow through with your saber to open the bottle,” he explains. “The most important thing is not to hesitate and not to hack the bottle. Always slide the blade along the seam and, when in company, never point the bottle at another person].
The art of sabering is far from a humble or subtle act, so be sure to embrace the grandeur of the occasion and strike with authority and a smile. “Remember, confidence is key,” Ball says.
This story first appeared on www.foodandwine.com
(Hero and featured image credit: Courtesy of St. Regis Bermuda Resort)
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