The art of sabrage is unmatched when it comes to opening a bottle of bubbles in style…
It’s exciting. It’s dangerous. It’s impossibly cool.
The art of sabrage is unmatched when it comes to opening a bottle of bubbles in style: the sabreur wields a flashing sword before assembled guests, then in one smooth, slick move, the end of the bottle is sheared off to release a plume of foamy deliciousness for their enjoyment. It’s exciting. It’s dangerous. It’s impossibly cool.
The exact origins of sabrage are shrouded in the mists of time, but the most common legend has it that Napoleon’s cavalry invented sabrage in the last days of the French Empire, as they were battling the Russians for control of the Champagne region. After the French army recaptured the area in early 1814, the Veuve Clicquot started giving Napoleon’s soldiers bottles of her Champagne to celebrate the victory – and maybe to encourage a little extra military protection of her winery and its cellars.
Since the Hussar cavalrymen were impetuous and constantly on the move, they invented a way to open the bottles that did not require putting down their sabers, or their horses’ reins. The trick caught on, and the French cavalry took to “beheading” a bottle of Champagne with their brass-hilted sabers as they rode off to battle the Russians. As fate would have it, they lost the war a month later.
An alternative legend said that Napoleon’s soldiers invented sabrage to show off for the young and attractive Veuve Clicquot, who had given them the bottles. Given how dashing and intrepid sabrage makes one look, this story may be the more likely account.
Somewhere along the way, horses were ditched from the ceremony, so now anyone with a big knife can pop open a bottle of bubbly with style and class. Today, the international Confrérie du Sabre d’Or (Brotherhood of the Golden Sabre) exists to preserve and celebrate the art for generations to come. Founded in 1986, the organization has spread around the world to unite Champagne lovers in Japan, Singapore, Switzerland, Mexico, the Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Belgium, and Sweden – as well as the United States. The Confrérie also invented a “Sabre d’Or” cocktail recipe that blends marc de Champagne, Grand Marnier, orgeat syrup, and pineapple juice, topped off by a healthy pour of brut Champagne.
A few obvious things need to be said about sabrage: chopping highly pressurized glass bottles open with a sword is very dangerous. A lot of things can go wrong, so it is best not to attempt it without being trained by an experienced sabreur. It is also recommended to keep sabrage as a party starter, versus reaching for the saber after a few drinks, to avoid the risk of ending the festivities with a trip to the emergency room. The fine art of sabrage takes a little practice but is (almost) guaranteed to make anyone more attractive and desirable once they’ve gotten the hang of it. Failing in that, it is still one of the most impressive party tricks out there.
SABRAGE IN NAPA VALLEY
A great way to experience sabrage in Napa Valley is through Verve Napa Valley, a tour and event company offering unique, curated experiences in wine country. T Beller, owner, and curator-in-chief is, among other things, an accomplished sabreur. T typically welcomes wine country guests in grand style by sabering open a bottle of bubbly with an antique Hussar blade, and elbow-length red suede gauntlets for safety. Verve offers private sabrage lessons to teach people the secrets that will virtually ensure a successful performance. “One has to do with bottle selection because all sparkling wines are not equal when it comes to sabrage,” T explained. “Discover which brands use the right kind of glass and the right amount of pressure for sexy, safe sabering.”
Proper preparation of the chosen bottle is also key. “Too many people chill their bubbly incorrectly for sabering, and wind up with an explosion of glass (and expensive wine), instead of explosive applause and admiration,” T warned. Sabrage is a fun and a fabulous way to kick off brunch al fresco in Napa Valley. Wondering what to eat with a sabered bottle of Paula Kornell Blanc de Noirs? Classic pairings like smoked salmon with soft-scrambled eggs, buckwheat blinis, and caviar & crème fraîche are classic for good reason. But today’s bubble-lovers in the know are more likely to be savoring it with Southern fried chicken, sushi, truffled French-fries, (salt, salt, and more salt) summer Caesar salad, Spanish-style tortillas with potato chips, and fresh summer berry pastries. Whatever sparkling selection is chosen for bubbly brunch, do not be afraid to safely use a knife.
T Beller is the founder of Verve Napa Valley and co-founder of Tomgirl Farms, a Napa micro-farm supplying Napa Valley chefs with garden-to-table organic heirloom produce, eggs, and flowers
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