Ever since I saw Ken Forrester clip the end off a bottle of Billecart-Salmon champagne with a teaspoon, I have been fascinated by the art of sabrage. This was first developed in the nineteenth century in the Napoleonic wars when the Hussars used to celebrate victory by lopping the necks of bottles with their sabres. After spending several hours in the company of South Africa’s resident expert on sabrage, Takuan von Arnim at Cabrière last week, I managed to persuade him to give me the lowdown on how to do it myself at home – so here goes!!
*****Warning***** Sabrage is not a game, and even if you follow these instructions to the letter, accidents can still happen. Media24 and Cabrière estate cannot be held responsible for any accidents or damage whatsoever which may occur as a result of reading this article.
1. Always try this at the beginning of the party. Never wait until you’ve had a few drinks, this can be a dangerous occupation and you need all your wits about you.
2. Use a Methode Cap Classique (MCC) or French champagne – nothing else will work.
3. Chill the bottle well in the fridge. Takuan doesn’t advise using an ice bucket as it can cause variations in temperature between the top and the bottom of the bottle. This makes it more likely to explode in your hand.
4. Always point the bottle away from people – it is best to do this outside, with your audience behind you.
5. Remove the foil and the wire cage without shaking the bottle.
6. Find the seam running the length of the bottle. Where that seam meets the neck is where you are going to strike so turn the bottle so that the seam is on the top.
7. Take a kitchen knife (or sabre if you happen to have one handy) and using the straight, blunt side gently run it down the seam to get your eye in.
8. Then with a fluid movement, run the knife down the seam, continuing to hit the neck firmly and following through with a flourish. This is not about strength, but rather hitting the bottle in the right place.
9. Let some fizz bubble out (to wash away any splinters that may be present) and then pour carefully. Do not touch the neck of the bottle on the glass in case there are any splinters remaining which may be dislodged.
Takuan offers one further piece of advice which is don’t try magnums until you know what you’re doing – not that I think I’m likely to have any lying round the house anyway. If you want to see step-by-step instructions, then click here to watch a video. Or better still, head out to Cabrière estate any Saturday at 11am to get the full tour, the full lowdown and the full demo – if you’re female, pretty and wearing a nice dress, then trust me – you’re going to be sabraging!!!
PS – if you have a go at this at home, please send us your pictures. We’d love to see how you do!