The Art of Champagne Sabering

Festive and flamboyant: You too can learn the maddest of skills—beheading the bubbly. 

Patricia Lyons

Sabering champagne

Sabrage, the art of removing the cork and annulus with a saber, apparently got its start in the late 17th century, during the Napoleonic Wars. Some historians say that mounted regiments of Hussards celebrated victory by sabering bottles from horseback, not bothering to dismount. In some cases, apparently, townsfolk held bottles aloft for officers to slice open. In other instances officers found a way to hold both reins and bottle in one hand and lop the top off with the other. All would agree, however, that it is a festive, flamboyant and ceremonial act—though by no means the safest or most proper method for removing a cork!

Anyone can saber, but only those with a little experience should saber at a party. It looks easy, but so does bocce ball; both require finesse and control more than brute strength. First, to greatly reduce the risk of an explosion, start with a cold bottle: Not “gee-it’s-been-in-ice-for-10-full-minutes” cool, but rather “hey-the-bottle-is-numbing-my-hand” cold. As temperature goes up, so does pressure, and since there’s as much pressure in a bottle of sparkling wine as a car tire, quieting down those rambunctious bubbles maximizes chances for successful (and safe) sabrage.

Second, remove the foil and locate the vertical seam that runs down the bottle. Find one of the two spots where the vertical seam meets the horizontal annulus, or lip of the bottle. Do not remove the cage until you are ready to strike. Third, visualize the trajectory of the cork and annulus. Even a cold bottle launches the top a distance of seven to 10 feet. Outdoors is best, but indoor sabreurs and sabreuses must look out for low-hanging chandeliers, stained glass windows, flora and fauna. 

Last, hold the bottle so it comfortably rests in one hand and angle it 30-45 degrees toward that empty patch of yard or such. With your other hand, remove the cage and slide the knife up with gusto—like peeling a carrot or whittling a stick—following through so that your sabering arm finishes fully extended in front of you.  For proper lessons in sabrage, reach Jason Tesauro via TheModernGentleman.com.

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