Opening champagne can be perilous at the best of times – I once accidentally exploded a too-warm bottle all over a customer in a cream linen suit and the moment haunts me still – but when you add sabrage into the mix, the danger (and fun) factor ramps up.
Made popular just after the French Revolution, when Napoleon’s army would open their bottles with a sweep of their sabres, the practice of sabrage continues to this day, helped along by the Confrérie du Sabre d’Or (Brotherhood of the Golden Sabre), which spreads the joy of the technique, and teaches people how to do it properly.
The Ritz has just been made a member of the Confrérie, with head sommelier Giovanni Ferlito and food & beverage manager Nick Bromhead being officially knighted as Maître Sabreur (Master in the Art of Sabrage) and the Deputy Maître Sabreur of The Ritz respectively.
‘I first learnt how to do it while I was on military service, before I became a sommelier,’ Ferlito said at the ceremony. ‘It was my birthday, and one of the commanders came in with a bottle and sword.’
He shared his tips on how to open a bottle with a large sword… or, more likely, a butter knife.
The Ritz’s tips on opening a bottle of champagne with sabrage:
- Find a safe area with at least a few metres’ clearance to give the cork enough space to fly.
- Make sure your bottle of bubbles is extremely cold, especially the neck – tip your bottle upside down in the ice bucket for the last five or 10 minutes.
- Peel back the foil around the neck to expose the neck. Remove the cage.
- Find the seam running along the bottle from top to bottom – you should run your knife along this point.
- Hold your bottle at a 45-degree angle, with your thumb placed in the punt.
- Using a blunt knife, run it smoothly along the seam at a medium pace, keeping the knife flat to the bottle. Don’t stop when you reach the raised glass ring at the top – continue the motion as if the ring isn’t there.
- Your cork should fly off, leaving a clean cut on the neck. If it hasn’t, the chances are you hesitated with the raised glass ring. Have another go, and concentrate on maintaining a smooth, flowing motion.