Everyone has at one point in their lives dreamed of being a musketeer, riding through the night on a horse with a sword hanging at their side. Well, when one thinks of sabering a champagne bottle, that is what their mind goes to. Popping off the champagne lid with a saber is an old tradition, dating all the way back to the French revolution. Now, if you are a wine connoisseur, you may be wondering, “can you saber a wine bottle?”
The answer is yes, you can saber a wine bottle. But it may be difficult! If you are planning to open a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine, then you will easily be able to use a saber. But if the wine isn’t sparkling, then you may not have enough pressure in the bottle to saber it open. The bottle also might not have the right kind of cork for sabering to work. We recommend only sabering carbonated wines that use a champagne style cork.
Now, as with any tradition, this one also has its own history! Let’s dive into exactly why people decided to saber open bottles and how exactly can you saber a wine bottle.
The History of Sabering
So who really was the first person to saber a champagne bottle? You may have heard about it being Napoleon Bonaparte or the officers in his cavalry – celebrating a great victory by pushing open a bottle on a horse or even drinking away their misery at a loss.
After all, it was the great Napoléon who famously said:
“Champagne! In victory, one deserves it; in defeat, one needs it.”
A myth that is supposedly the real story of how sabering started involves the same cavalry officers and a certain Madame Clicquot. She was only a young widow who inherited her husband’s house of Champagne when she was twenty-seven. Now, where does this woman fit into the history of opening bottles with swords? Let’s dive in!
Author Note: Now keep in mind, take these stories with a grain of salt. As with most of history, we don’t know what is an urban legend and what really took place. But, there is no harm in allowing a little magic into our lives, is there?
The Napoleonic War Hussars
As you may know, the Napoleonic Wars came after the French Revolution of 1789. Napoléon Bonaparte seized power in France about a decade later. Only a few years later, he was initiating fights all around Europe.
The Hussars, who were light cavalry soldiers on fast horses, was a symbol of the “invincible” Napoléon armies. These luxuriously dressed young soldiers wore Pelisses – short fur-trimmed jackets and bore powerful brass hilted sabers.
As these young and excited soldiers rode home after a row of early victories, legend says that the people in the towns would toss them Champagne bottles as gifts. Since they were still riding their horses, the hussars would struggle to open foil-wrapped cages then pull out the corks.
As you can imagine, the solution was a single swift stroke with their sable blade to the bottleneck. Take a second to imagine the scene of these young Hussars slicing open Champagne bottles on horses while the townspeople excitedly yelled for their victories.
Of course, Napoléon’s victories weren’t long-lasting. While his soldiers lost their final battle at Waterloo in 1815, his march into Russia three years earlier was also part of his downfall. Maybe it was somewhere in a frozen Moscow forest where soldiers felt the need to drown their sorrows, surrounded by the bodies of their fellow soldiers.
The Clicquot Widow
Another legend that circulates about the origin of sabering concerns a lonely widow living in Napoleon’s French Empire. The daughter of an aristocratic family, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, married François Clicquot when she was 21 years old.
François Clicquot’s family ran a number of businesses, including producing Champagne. When he died only six years later, Madame Clicquot took control of the Champagne company. After some conflicts with her father-in-law, she received an investment that let focus solely on Champagne production.
Author Note: She turned out to be an excellent winemaker, though it did take her a few years to achieve true success. Her company developed the riddling process, which is how Champagne you drink today is so clear.
Clicquot’s husband died in 1805, in the early times of the Napoleonic Wars. When the young soldiers rode through Reims, they found a wealthy enthusiastic widow who ran her own Champagne business. The story tells us that she would entertain these officers in her vineyard while giving out bottles of Champagne when they got on their horses for battle.
The officers, wishing to catch the eye of the wealthy young widow, would unsheathe their sables and pop the tops off champagne bottles. For all we know, she wasn’t very impressed by these antics, as the widow never remarried. But, she survived the wars and went on to build a massive Champagne empire.
The Sabering Tradition Today
Today, the iconic French tradition is still kept alive by the Confrerie du Sabre d’Or, or the Brotherhood of the Golden Sword, which is a formal order. In fact, France, Britain, and Italy are all home to orders of this group.
If you decide you wish to wave a sword while imbibing, you could join the club for $50, and you will even receive a fancy acceptance ceremony. Imagine what kind of impressive bragging right this membership could give you! Now, you don’t need to join a club if you wish to open a bottle.
In fact, now let’s dive into the question, “Can you saber a wine bottle?”.
Can You Saber a Wine Bottle and How?
- Prepare your bottle of Champagne, Prosecco, or sparkling wine. Your sparkling wine must be made in the champagne method. Those made in a Charmat or ancestrale method won’t be good for sabering since the pressure inside is usually much lower.
- Prepare a heavy instrument with a blade. You can use a high-quality chef’s knife or a sword if you happen to have one lying around.
- Make sure the Champagne is really cold. You can put it into the freezer for 15 minutes to make it chilly. The colder your wine is, the less you will lose during the impact.
- Being sure you are pointing the bottle away from your own face and that of anyone else’s, any pets, or expensive furniture.
- Remove all of the foil and also the cage from the cork. You can discard these.
- Hold the bottle by the punt, place your thumb inside and extend your fingers toward the neck. Don’t wrap your fingers around the whole bottle.
- Hold the bottle horizontally at an arm’s length and point away from anything in the vicinity.
- Arrange your blade, so it is parallel with the floor and at a 45-degree angle to the bottle.
- Run your blade across the bottle. We recommend doing a few gentle test runs before you actually do it. Just to see how it works. You need to hit the collar once you run the blade from the base to the neck.
- And now just go for it!
- If it didn’t work the first time, don’t worry! Check the angle of your blade and use more force. You don’t need to shatter the bottle, but it is going to require some power.
- Once you did it, congratulate yourself!
- Wipe the bottle and check for any stray glass shards. Before you drink, also check the first glass that is poured for glass.
- Drink and have fun!
Is Sabering a Wine Bottle Dangerous?
Now that you know the answer to can you saber a wine bottle, it is time to move on to the question of should you really do it. Since we aren’t horsemen in Napoleon’s cavalry anymore, there is no practical need for this maneuver. There is definitely a bottle opener lying around somewhere, or even a key can be used.
When it comes to Champagne, it’s already fairly easy to open on its own. But we all have to admit that it really is a great party trick. In fact, sabering a bottle of Champagne is fairly safe.
Author Note: Due to the high amount of pressure inside, it explodes through the hole and pushes out any shards that may have been in the bottle. If any shards do manage to stay, they will sink due to the contrast of densities.
And of course, you aren’t really slicing off the top of the bottle, but more pushing it off. Using a blunt edge target the weak point of the neck and causes a fracture. This crack continues to travel down to the rest of the bottle, and the pressure inside pushes it away.
Don’t try the sabering technique with other alcohols such as beer and cider. The difference in the glass quality and the liquid inside may lead to a dangerous situation.
And That Is All For Today
Well, we hope you enjoyed reading about the interesting history of opening champagne bottles with a sword! It will surely be an interesting topic to talk about at the dinner table. And if you also want to show off your sabering technique, make sure to follow the steps above.
Practice a few times before you actually apply force, so you already have the hand motions down.
We know it may seem obvious, but we want to remind you once more to make sure you are pointing the top away from anything and anyone nearby. So, get out there and start sabering!
To living a full-bodied life,