The History of Champagne Sabrage

“Sabering” is the art of opening a wine bottle with a sword and requires some skill to accomplish successfully. Legend says that Napoleon Bonaparte’s soldiers were the first people to saber bottles of wine as they traveled through the countryside in Champagne with no time to dismount from their horses to uncork.

Sabering has since become a somewhat common spectacle at public events of celebration and defeat — for example, among Napoleon’s troops after the Battle of Waterloo (1815).

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Napoleon’s tremendous triumphs across Europe provided plenty of cause for celebration. The cavalry used their sabres to crack open Champagne bottles during these festivities.

When a wealthy Champagne house owner, named François Clicquot died in 1805, his 27-year-old widow (in French, Veuve) took over the business and created her first vintage (Veuve Clicquot) in 1811. Napoleon’s soldiers would often visit her vineyard, and have informal sabering competitions to impress her.  

champagne sabrage

Today, swords and sabers are designed and manufactured for the sole purpose of sabering Champagne. On August 2, 2015, Ashrita Furman of New York, used a 13-inch “Arabian sabre” to open 66 wine bottles in one minute and set a new Guinness World Record. On September 5, 2015, another exciting sabering event took place in Mendrisio, Switzerland to raise money for a local first aid service. They too set a Guinness World Record, for the largest crowd to saber bottles simultaneously: 487.

The Physics of Champagne Sabrage

Champagne bottles are very thick to withstand the pressure of the bubbles. Early bottle designs had a tendency to explode, so the manufacturers kept making them thicker until they could withstand the pressure brought on by the secondary fermentation’s release of carbon dioxide. [6]

To successfully saber a Champagne bottle, you first have to chill the bottle. Then place the neck of the bottle in ice bucket for 10-20 minutes to make sure the glass is very cold.  Next remove the foil and wire cage. Ensure the bottle is dry and not slippery before holding with the bottle with your non-dominant hand. Finally find the seam on the bottle near the neck; this is where you will be striking bottle.

The pressure in the bottle plus the pressure of the saber on the vulnerable seam causes the top of the bottle to separate and fly away.

The Champagne sword

A sword designed specifically for sabrage is called a champagne sword. Some swords have small, 12-inch (30-centimeter) blades that resemble long knives. Because the impact is what matters in sabrage, the blade’s edges should be blunt; a sharpened edge is not essential.

Want to know more? Take a look at these books!

Sabrage, The History of Champagne SabrageSabrage, The History of Champagne Sabrage

References

  1. Becky Sue Epstein, Champagne: A Global History (Reaktion Books, 2011), 189-190.
  2. Smith, Blake. 2017. “What Is The Origin And History Of Sabering Champagne?” Kazzit. https://kazzit.com/wine-blog/what-is-the-origin-and-history-of-sabering-champagne.html
  3.  Malin, Joshua, and Adam Teeter. 2014. “Legends & Myth: The History Of Champagne Sabering.” VinePair. https://vinepair.com/wine-blog/history-champagne-sabering/
  4.  “Most champagne/sparkling wine bottles opened in one minute,” Guinness World Records. Available: https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/most-champagne-bottles-sabered-in-one-minute. Accessed 21 June 2022.
  5.  “Most people opening champagne/sparkling wine bottles simultaneously,” Guinness World Records. Available: https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/most-champagne-bottles-sabered-simultaneously-. Accessed 21 June 2022.
  6. En.wikipedia.org. 2022. Sabrage – Wikipedia. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabrage> [Accessed 3 July 2022].

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