Get ready to impress your guests on December 31.
There are several theories behind the origins of Champagne sabering (aka lopping off the tip of the Champagne bottle’s neck with a sword or knife.)
Patrick Cappiello, owner/winemaker of Monte Rio Cellars and founding member of Winemakers & Sommeliers for California Wildfire Relief, has a favorite: As Napoléon Bonaparte was conquering Europe, he shared Champagne with his troops, who were armed with swords. They opened bottles by hacking the tops off with their blades. (Some also add that this bottle-opening method was easiest for cavalry on horseback.)
“That’s the coolest theory, the one that I always go with,” says Cappiello. "But no matter what the legend, it’s a statement of celebration and should be carried on.”
Consider what Napoleon said, “Champagne! In victory, one deserves it. In defeat, one needs it.”
In 2014, Cappiello was Food & Wine magazine's Sommelier of the Year. He's also the go-to guy for Champagne sabering. He first discovered the allure of sabering more than a decade ago from a friend who is one of the country's top Champagne collectors. The friend would saber a bottle of Champagne in the corner at the famous Veritas restaurant where Cappiello worked at the time. “It was fun and theatrical for everybody,” he explains.
Fast forward to Cappiello working at the lavish Gilt restaurant in the New York Palace Hotel. In 2012, when they announced their closing they gave a blowout party. “As the night came to an end, the chef and I jumped on the bar of this two-Michelin star restaurant to make a speech and thank everybody,” Cappiello recalls. “I had a 1998 magnum of Dom Pérignon and a chef’s knife.” After the speech, Cappiello sabered the bottle and the crowd went crazy. “It was very emotional,” says Cappiello. “That was the moment when I realized, wow, this is very impactful.”
Whenever Pearl & Ash, Cappiello’s former restaurant, received a great review they would celebrate with a bottle of bubbly. Built on a shoestring budget, the restaurant was voted one of the top 50 new restaurants in America by Bon Appétit magazine (so those bottles of bubbly came often.)
At one shindig, Cappiello broke out a double magnum of Pierre Peters Champagne, got up on the bar with his chef and partner and sabered the massive bottle. “Week after week we just kept doing it. I thought, 'This is so much fun, let’s keep going,'” Cappiello explains. He ultimately found a four-foot-long Katana sword on eBay, which became the restaurant’s saber.
Understandably, in this techie age, there’s something alluring and romantic about sabering. “It energizes the room,” Cappiello says. “Opening a bottle of Champagne has a celebratory drive behind it. But there's also a very dramatic presentation: you have a sword. You’re up on a bar. Then there’s an intense pop with Champagne shooting out. It’s very interactive and exciting. It demystifies the idea of wine.”
If you can’t get to Rebelle, Cappiello says you can test your sabering skills at home. (Just be extra cautious.) Cappiello offered tips for how to saber a Champagne bottle. Click through the gallery and read them all.