“In victory, you deserve Champagne; in defeat, you need it.”
— Napoleon Bonaparte….(possibly).
The iconic quote above is often attributed to Napoleon, but we are not exactly sure who said it. It sure sounds like something he’d say, so let’s go with it. And as with all Champagne lore…there’s a goodly amount of myth surrounding who said or did what. Contrary to popular belief, Dom Pérignion, a French monk, did not actually “invent” Champagne (despite all the hullabaloo surrounding his “Come quickly, I’m tasting the stars” quote). And was the coupe really designed after Marie Antoinette’s breast? Who knows? Hey – it’s possible! Regardless, lore, myth, and majesty are part of Champagne’s irresistible charm: I do believe bubbles really are magic.
Even the act of opening a bottle of Champagne can carry quite a bit of flair. You can pop the cork like a cannon, signaling celebration, or you can follow a more demure act of opening the bottle, touted by those in the ‘biz’. In this fashion, it’s highly preferred to pop the cork in such a manner that could be described (most enchantingly) as a “nun’s fart”. Regardless, that pop (be it deafening or quiet) is a delightful pre-curser to what’s sure to be a fabulous evening. And to begin your celebration with even MORE panache…why not SABER your bottle open?!?
Sabering is the theatrical art of opening a Champagne bottle by a long knife/sword/saber. If done well, upon contact to the bottle rim, the cork will zoom through the air and out will fly a bit of Champagne, along a clean break in the glass (all three of these things hopefully missing someone’s eyeball in the process).
I had never personally sabered (is that a verb?) a bottle, but made a resolution to learn on as good a time as any for resolution-making: New Year’s Eve. We were given a beautiful French Laguiole saber for our wedding and I was determined to figure out how to use it. After watching countless YouTube videos, I felt like I understood the gist of it, and decided it was high time to try the damn thing. That was the first attempt, off our front porch into the bushes. It went pretty well, and I went to sleep proudly having accomplished a New Year’s resolution before New Year’s Day had even hit.
The second attempt was in front of 60 party guests. GULP.
I’d like to proudly report that no one was killed, lost an eye, or was doused in Champagne (although someone may have welcomed the latter), so I figured my two time success deserved heaps of praise. As I proudly sent a slo-mo video of my saber-feat to my girlfriends, one asked “so what’s up with this saber tradition, anyway? Don’t you lose a lot of the wine? What’s the point if you lose a bunch of wine?”
I had to admit; I had no idea about the tradition surrounding the saber. So I looked it up.
Apparently (hey, Champagne myths!) after winning the French Revolution, as Napoleon galloped home victoriously with his fleet of men, the townsfolk, in their excitement, tossed bottles of Champagne to him and his army. Being it was quite difficult to open the bottles while riding, the men quickly sabered them with their swords. (I’m not totally sure how that’s easier, but okay, it’s lore).
According to his quote, Napoleon drank Champagne regardless of victory or defeat, but I highly doubt anyone tossed him a bottle after his defeat at Waterloo. I’m sure when he got home from that bummer of a job, he probably did open a bottle to nurse his wounds. However I’m pretty sure he didn’t open that bottle with an extravagant pop, but probably with that gentle sound of a nun’s fart.
Since then, there’s a bit of pomp and circumstance surrounding the act of sabering. Yes you lose a little wine…but you gain some street cred. (I like to tell myself this).
And so, lastly (so you can gain some street cred), here’s what I promised you:
How to Saber a Champagne Bottle:
- Procure a saber and a bottle of sparkler (I’d err on the side of inexpensive here).
- Remove the foil completely and take the wire cage off the bottle (and make SURE the bottle is pointing AWAY from anyone you love, or even like) as sometimes corks like to “pop” on their own before the time is right). There’s a lot of pressure in that bottle – six atmospheres to be exact!
- Turn the bottle until you locate a “seam”, a vertical line running from the bottom all the way to the top. It’s faint, but it’s there. Place your non-dominant hand under the bottle, holding it horizontally so the seam is facing up.
- With the bottle slightly tilted up, guide the saber along the seam. I like to do this a few times to “practice” before hitting the rim of the bottle. (Also, look around…this is a good time to make sure no one has wandered into your safe space.)
- Take a breath. You got this, Champ!
- On your last slide down the bottle with the saber, give it a little extra “oomph”. (This is a technical term). The saber will hit the lip of the bottle, create a clean break in the neck, and the pressure will send any glass, the cork, and a bit of the sparkler out of the bottle.
- Celebrate! Pour everyone you love (or like) some bubbly! Be careful, as the spout of the bottle could be sharp from where the clean break happened!
P.S. In case of a sobering, saber defeat: choose your bottle wisely. I’d recommend practicing on a Sparkler under $20. Do NOT choose a bottle of $2,000 Billecart-Salmon, as did the sommelier of the famed French Laundry in Napa. Big-time. Epic. Fail.
To witness this face palming occurrence, check out the video below.
DO NOT DO THIS! 🤦♀️