Celebrate the holidays (or your next victory) with sabrage, the art of opening a Champagne bottle with a sword
We all look forward to popping a bottle of bubbly around the holidays. Now, thanks to St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, you can learn to do so in the most dramatic of fashions.
Sabrage, the art of opening a Champagne bottle with a sword, dates to the Napoleonic Wars, when the French general’s armies would celebrate victories—or drown their sorrows after defeats—by drinking sparkling wine from ceremonially popped bottles. St. Regis properties have long incorporated demonstrations of the showy technique in their evening programs, but this year the brand stepped the swordplay up a notch, offering sabrage lessons at nine of its North American properties.
“Everybody wants to try it,” says David Najemian, the director of event operations at The St. Regis New York, who estimates he has sabered “hundreds” of bottles in his 18 years at the hotel. “They ask, ‘How do you do that? Can you still drink the Champagne?’ And you can—there’s no chips or anything in it.”
Today, I’m lucky to be taking the sabrage tutorial with Najemian at The St. Regis New York’s Astor Court restaurant. Over a plate of canapés that includes gold-leaf-topped Napoleon pastries and shrimp with bloody Mary cocktail sauce, he walks me through the tricks of the technique: 1) Chill the Champagne upside down for at least an hour and a half to make the glass more brittle; 2) use a dull blade with a little bit of weight to it, as a sharp one will chip the bottle lip; 3) hold the bottle by the bottom, with your thumb in the punt; 4) run the blade up the edge of the glass, aiming for the spot where the seam in the molded glass meets the lip. Then he demonstrates, knocking the top off a bottle with a swift whack, sending foam spouting into the air. “Just a little flick of the wrist,” he says, “but give it a good follow through.”
Now it’s my turn. I take the napkin-swathed bottle in one hand, the hefty sword in the other, and size up my foe. Then, with a smooth, confident stroke, I smite the Veuve Clicquot, beheading it with a satisfying pop—the sound of victory.
The only thing more pleasurable than that sound is the taste of the wine, which I pour into flutes from the remarkably smooth-edged top of the decapitated bottle. After enjoying my celebratory beverage, I even leave with a souvenir.
“I have a collection of tops on my desk—it’s like my little war chest,” Najemian says, as he hands me the glass-hemmed cork. “Put that in your collection.”
Sabrage lesson, $400 for a group of up to four, st-regis.marriott.com