If you’ve watched any of our Will It Sabre videos on Facebook or Instagram, then you know that it’s not just swords that can sabre a bottle of sparkling wine. In fact, when sabering, you actually use the blunt side of the blade — the force of the object hitting the lip of the bottle is what separates the collar from the neck. The sword doesn’t slice the bottle, it remove the top of the bottle completely. That’s why a serving spoon is just as successful as a hockey skate — it’s all about the force and the follow-through. Read on to learn exactly how this works.
What is sabering?
Part of what makes fizzy wine so delightful, beyond the flavour and the straight-to-your-head effect of the bubbles, is the ritual of opening it. No other beverage, when opened, makes a sound like a gun or has the potential to break a window. That pop tells everyone that something special is coming. It’s definitely a showy way to get the party started.
Historically, sabering (or sabrage) was the art of opening a bottle of sparkling wine with a French cavalry sword. When a bottle is sabered correctly, the very top of the bottle cleanly pops off along with the cork. The neck is sheared straight, not jagged, and the rest of the bottle remains undamaged.
It’s a spectacular way to open a bottle of fizz. But doing it incorrectly can result in a lot of wasted Champagne, plus some very sharp broken glass. So, disclaimer: if you’re going to try this at home, heed DJ’s safety tips as listed below!
How does sabering work?
A bottle of properly chilled sparkling wine has a pressure of around ninety pounds per square inch; that’s about the same as water pressure ten meters under the surface. Back in the day, this was a real problem. Bubbly was referred to as “the devil’s wine” because of its tendency to suddenly explode due to changes in temperature and thin glass. It wasn’t until French glassmakers improved their techniques, and began producing thicker bottles (or sourcing stronger English bottles), that Champagne could be reliably shipped.
Every Champagne-style bottle has a weak spot. Along the neck of each runs two seams, where the halves of the bottle were joined during manufacturing. There is another seam right below the lip of the bottle (also known as the annulus). Where these seams intersect, the bottle is weaker —about fifty percent weaker than anywhere else, in fact. And given the force of the carbon dioxide pressure squeezing into the neck, this intersection becomes the sweet spot for sabering. It’s important to note that not all fizz is suitable for sabering. The pressure must be high enough for safety, and so stick to wines that are made in the traditional method of bottle fermentation like Champagne, Cava, and similarly-made new world sparklers.
Hitting the weak spot with concentrated force releases the pressure inside, forms a straight crack running along the seam below the annulus, and sends the tip of the bottle flying through the air. And because of the outward pressure — and some wine which inevitably shoots out as a result — shards of glass are pushed away. Do NOT try drinking from the sabered bottle as the edges will be razor sharp!
Here are the must-do’s for safe sabering:
- Choose a bottle-fermented sparkling wine.
- Chill the bottle thoroughly—the entire bottle—including the neck. The colder the bottle, the less wine you will lose upon sabering. It should be about 4 degrees Celsius. That’s about half an hour immersed in ice and water, or half a day in your refrigerator.
- Dry the bottle very well so it is not slippery, and be sure to not agitate it at all. Do not shake!
- Remove the decorative foil, loosen and take off the wire cage. Once the cage is removed, be careful where you point the bottle— the cork is ‘live’ and can be unpredictable.
- Visually identify the vertical moulding seam of the bottle— this is your guide to where you will run the dull edge of the knife (or whatever you are using) along.
- Hold the bottom of the bottle firmly with one hand (grasp low down in the bottle— you do not want to have any digits in the way) on a 30 degree angle, point the bottle in a safe direction (no windows, people, or pets in the line of fire). Now place the blade at a 45 degree angle relative to the bottle neck.
- Take a few practice swings (but do not make contact with the lip of the bottle!) and visualise your follow-through, like a sweet golf or tennis stroke.
- In one smooth motion (and with some muscle), run your blade along the mould line striking the lip of the bottle neck. Be sure to carry your hand and the blade forward. If the bottle does not break, re-grip and try again. Sometimes it can take a few swipes before you succeed.
- Be sure to have a friend handy with a camera. It’s super-cool to watch this extravagant accomplishment in slow motion.
- Do retrieve the broken bottle neck (it can fly many metres) as the edges will be lethally sharp. Dispose of this safely.
Whether at a humble house party or a grand gala, sabering is a ceremonial, flashy way to open a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine. Whether it’s with a spoon, a skate, or a Hussar’s blade, sabrage is a great spectacle. It’s over-the-top, superfluous and a little surprising: In a word, effervescent.