How to Avoid a Murder Mystery Unfolding at Your Next Celebration
It’s one of the champagne world’s most thrilling rituals. Cracking open a bottle of bubbly with a cavalry sabre lends your celebration a sense of gravity and dramatic flair that makes any other style of popping a cork pale by comparison. Champagne itself is not an ancient concept – it only originated just over 300 years ago when it was thought to have been a rancid mistake (thankfully, Dom Perignon persisted) – and so the sabrage ritual only came about around the time of the French Revolution. Since then, however, it has become one of wine culture’s most famous flourishes. And while the act of sabrage might bring to mind a premise for an Agatha Christie novel, it needn’t result in an incident requiring the services of Inspector Poirot.
History is vague on the exact origins of sabrage, but the two most enduring stories both involve Napoleon. Returning home from a battle abroad (details undisclosed) following the Revolution, one version tells the story of he and his troops being greeted by an exultant group of townspeople, who offered them copious bottles of champagne to thank them for saving the day. Mounted on horseback, the soldiers could not hold the bottles with both hands to open them, and so, used their cavalry sabres instead, which came standard with a snazzy uniform and a dandy pair of boots. Another story goes that the widow Cliquot gave Napoleon and his men champagne as a gift for keeping her land safe.
These days, sabrage remains a little misunderstood. Many believe it to be a simple act of chopping the top of the bottle off, but there is an art to it that doesn’t require any display of brute force. A simple whack at the base of the head – at its weakest point where the seam of the bottle comes together – is enough for the atmospheres in the bottle to release the head (cork, glass and all) from the neck. But as in any situation involving battle-ready blades and flying pieces of glass, there are a few steps to ensuring the safety of your guests.
Keep your bubbly in the fridge for at least 24 hours before the big moment. The warmer the bottle, the greater the risk of it shattering into more pieces than desired.
BURSTING AT THE SEAM
Just before doing the deed, find the seam of the bottle, which runs vertically from the tip to the base (where the two halves join). See this seem as your guide for the sabre’s trajectory. When ready, slide your sabre along the seam until it connects with the neck.
Take off all possible traces of foil and paper and remove the wire cage holding the cork down. Once the wire cage is off, though, the bottle is “live” – much like a firearm – and should be treated with the utmost caution.
Grip the bottle firmly at the base as you perform the act. This will secure the bottle (as well as any guests who are feeling adventurous by standing too close for comfort). As you gain more confidence, you can slide your thumb into the punt, the indentation at the base under the bottle.
AIM, THEN FIRE
Make sure there are no friends, family, extended family, in-laws or pets directly in line of fire. At this stage, the bottle is a weapon. When clear, fire away by running the blade along the seam to the neck at speed.
DISPOSE OF THE EVIDENCE
The deed is done. Now begins the clean-up operation. The pressure released from the bottle expels all shards outwards, so there should be no risk of any glass entering the bottle. Before pouring, though, wipe the tip off to ensure no glass has remained along the freshly sabred neck.