An illustration of a person sabering a champagne bottle

Impress Your Friends and Terrify Your Enemies As You Saber a Champagne Bottle Like a Total Boss

It's easier than it looks (but you should still take some precautions).

Although it is said to originate from Napoleon Bonaparte’s victory celebrations, the art of sabering — or sabrage, said with Gallic zeal — is now regularly practiced by sommeliers at luxury hotels, intrepid TikTokers, and the always elegant chef Jacques Pépin. I have been decapitating bubbly for decades, doing it with a spoon, an ice scraper, and the foot of a Champagne flute; it is even featured on the cover of my last book. So here is how to saber a bottle successfully and safely. Note that you are dealing with a glass bottle under 90 pounds of pressure per square inch, and a soon-to-be-flying projectile, so it’s always a good idea to wear glasses — your own or a pair of safety glasses. For superhero panache, try skydiving goggles.

Choose your bottle

First, find yourself a bottle of Champagne or other traditionally made sparkling wine. Prosecco, which is made in a tank method, tends not to work as well, as it has lower pressure (90 pounds per square inch for Champagne; 50 or so for Prosecco). The higher pressure, in my experience, results in a cleaner break; it also lowers the chance of glass shards ending up in the bottle.

Ice it down

Make the bottle very cold, preferably by submerging it for 30 minutes in a bucket filled with water, ice, and, if available, some salt to speed the process (a cup per gallon of water is a good general rule). To make the bottle’s neck extra cold, you might flip the bottle and give it a few minutes upside down in the bucket, too. (Forty-five minutes in your freezer will also work; just don’t forget it’s in there.) Coldness makes the glass brittle and easier to break.

Remove the foil and cage

Once chilled, remove the bottle’s foil and cage, always pointing the bottle away from people and pets, as you never know when the cork might erupt randomly. Find one of the two faint seams running up the length of the bottle. These are the weakest points.

Select your saber

A curved, tasseled Champagne saber (which you can find online here) is the most ceremonial weapon of choice, but any heavy kitchen knife will do. Use the unsharpened top edge of the blade, aka the spine. You’re not cutting as much as you are striking the bottle’s lip in a controlled way.

Mark Oldman saber lesson

Mark Fiorito

Angle the bottle

Hold the bottle at about a 45-degree angle. If the bottle is large-format, such as a magnum or larger, you might support it with one of the many wine cradles available online; don’t clamp it between your legs. (Hitting a very large glass bottle that’s between your legs with a sword is … inadvisable, let’s say.) Trace the blade along the seam, and take a few practice strokes. Make sure the bottle is not pointed in the path of anyone or anything valuable. Take a deep breath, and visualize success; be the blade.

Swipe the saber

Then, in a smooth, confident motion, swipe the knife up the seam until it strikes the lip of the bottle. Don’t be jerky or overly forceful; it’s about motion, not muscle. If all goes well, the cork will shear off with a ring of glass around it.

Handle with care

Don’t relax yet. While you need not worry about glass getting in the bottle (the laws of physics ensure that stray shards, if any, blow away from the bottle), the lingering peril is the jagged edge left on the wet, slippery bottle. So be extra careful to avoid cutting your hand when you pour for your guests — or a bunch of Napoleonic cavalry officers — the foamy fruits of your successful sabrage.

Mark Oldman is the author of several acclaimed wine books and is known for leading captivating wine seminars at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, which he has been attending and presenting at for more than 17 years. 

Top Illustration by VISBII

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