Sabrage is said to have existed since the Napoleonic wars, when soldiers going off into battle, would take out their sabres to knock the top of the bottles of champagne to impress the Veuve Clicquot who has so hospitably entertained them on their way to battle.
Using such a large sabre is very impressive to watch, but sabring a bottle is not at all difficult when the correct technique is used.
There are about 5 -6 atmospheres of pressure in a champagne bottle – built up from the long fermentation process. The trick is gently tapping the bottle at its weakest point to allow the pressure inside the bottle to do the rest.
A bottle has two weak spots, where the seam on each side meets the annulus at the top. By gently sliding the sabre along the seam and following through with the movement with a strong wrist, the annulus will detach from the bottle and fly away with the cork.
The pressure escaping from the bottle ensures that no small shards of glass can fall back into the bottle, and when done properly, very little wine is wasted.
Things can go wrong, however, when a few small rules are not applied, so it is always best to know what you are doing before trying it at home.
- Make sure the temperature of the bottle is not too cold or too warm. If the bottle is too cold, the glass can be weakened and shatter. Sometimes if the bottle is too cold compared to the outside temperature, the cork will pop by itself, without needing to be sabred, which is a bit of a disappointment.
- Always use champagne, not sparkling wine. Champagne producers use a much better quality of glass that is less likely to shatter.
- Always use a standard shape bottle. Bottles that have a long skinny neck compared to the main part of the bottle will shatter, because the long neck can not withstand the pressure coming through.
- Don’t hit hard. This can also break the neck of the bottle down too low, spilling and wasting the precious contents. A gentle fluid movement that follows through is all that is needed.
- If you know that you are using the correct technique, and after 3 or 4 tries the bottle won’t sabre. Give up. It probably means there is flaw in the glass. By continuing on and hitting harder and hard, the risk of shattering the neck in the wrong place becomes too great.
How to Sabre a bottle
Take a chilled bottle of champagne – not ice cold
Carefully remove the wire
Find a seam and remove the foil
Extend your arm and hold the bottle firmly. Place the thumb inside the punt at the base of the bottle.
Make sure the neck is pointing up – around 30° from horizontal.
Lay the sabre flat along the seam of the bottle.
Firmly slide the edge along the seam towards the annulus.
Keep sliding the edge of the sabre until it hits the annulus and make sure to follow through with the movement. Much like playing a backhand in tennis. You will feel a delicious pop as you hit the sweet spot and the cork and annulus go flying.
Once you have mastered the Art of Sabrage, and understand the technique involved, you can sabre a bottle with just about anything:
The traditional method
Sabrage with a flute:
Sabrage with a pizza shovel:
Contact Amanda for information on organising a Sabring event.