It has been said that when a bottle of champagne is sabred correctly it sounds like the sigh of a content woman.
It begins with peeling off the layer of gold foil, slowly and purposefully; for it is delicate. Then releasing the cage around the cork so that the pressure can escape. Carefully untwisting the wire to prevent the cork releasing ahead of time. Running my fingers along the seam on the neck of the bottle. Being confident; placing the sabre on the seam, careful to apply the right amount of pressure and then swiftly sliding along the neck. I don’t want the cork to be unyielding. An inexorable sigh escaping with a sudden burst of satisfaction. The trick is not to be strong and hard but sure and intentional. Go all the way, it is a clean movement.
The history of sabrage is surrounded by myth and mystery. It goes back to the French Revolution of 1789 when Napoleon Bonaparte would sabre champagne using his sword. It is said that he and his soldiers; Hussars, would drink it in both defeat and exaltation. They were able to sabre a bottle with their brass hilted swords whilst on horseback.
Legend has it that they would visit Veuve Clicquot in Reims and be entertained by the widow Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, dining at her vineyard. Madame Clicquot took over the champagne business after her husband died in 1805, when she was twenty-seven years old. The bottle is still representative of her today, veuve being the French word for widow. She was a woman of contradictions, described as a formidable business woman and an entertainer of great frivolity. Historians still claim that because of her “no business in the world has been as much influenced by the female sex as that of champagne”. As the soldiers would depart her vineyard she would gift them a bottle of champagne that they would sabre as they rode off to their next battle.
Champagne sabrage has been kept alive in modernity by companies such as Mumm who have made it a feature of their brand to keep this practise relevant. I was trained by a Mumm representative some years ago now. It is possible for inexperienced hands to cause injury to themselves and others but as you can see when done well it is a seamless performance and makes a welcome addition to any dinner party.
How could anyone say no to a satisfied sigh…