Why you should care
This could be your next great party trick.
Ingredients: one bottle of Champagne, icy trails running down its neck. One slim glass flute. One 12-inch steel sword with a tapered wooden handle. No, this isn’t some freaky Fatal Attraction redux. These are the three things you need to participate in sabrage, the fine art of opening bubbly … by saber.
Grasping the bottle in one hand, an experienced sabreur lops off the bottle’s neck with a quick flick of the saber; one satisfying swish provides bubbly and cool credentials. Yes, it sounds like a Jackass stunt, but this is a skill with historical precedence, dating back to the “1700s when transportation was a horse and the weapon of the day was a saber,” Frank Morgan King, CEO of Sonoma Champagne Sabres, tells OZY. In Napoleon’s era, soldiers would return from war and celebrate on horseback. With no corkscrew in their back pockets, using a sword to hack into their Champagne became the norm.
The French Revolution has passed, but the tradition of sabrage continues. In recent years its popularity has led to a growing number of classes and experiences worldwide, ranging from carving off corks at California wineries to honing saber skills on private islands off the coast of England. And the art form can bring out a competitive streak, with regular attempts to break records for most bottles sabered in a minute: The YouTube record is 55 bottles in 60 seconds; Guinness World Records says 47. No matter how you slice it, that’s some serious bottle beheading.
Caution: Always check your surroundings, as a sabered cork can fly 40 feet.
For us amateurs, “there are six steps to sabrage,” King says, explaining that a number of factors must align if you want A+ swordsmanship. The colder the bottle the better, as the tip will snap cleanly — a warm bottle can shatter. He advises beginners to hold the bottle at a 20-degree angle, and “follow the [cork] seam with the blade.” Caution: Always check your surroundings, as a sabered cork can fly 40 feet. Yikes. “You could definitely hurt yourself,” warns Sydney Munteanu, content director at Club W, a California-based wine service. You also need to be wary of losing a bottle to breakage, she adds. (Suggestion: Start off with some cheap stuff.)
So where do you get your hands on a saber? King has been selling them globally for three years. But you’ll need to have deep pockets: His blades cost anywhere from $176 to $27,000. For those who just want to know more, numerous societies are devoted to promoting sabrage, including the Knights of Wine Society and the Order of the Golden Sabre, established in 1986. And more and more people seem to have their interest piqued. Online searches for sabrage have increased a hundredfold over the last decade, and there’s 14,000 YouTube videos. Understandable — shearing off the top of a Champagne bottle with a saber is cool by any standard.
Fun fact: Sabrage has zero effect on the alcohol quality — unless you manage to spill it, of course. And if that happens, we suggest you take Napoleon’s message to heart. “In victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it.” And some extra Champagne never hurt anyone, right?