The Art of Sabrage

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The Art of Sabrage

This article is devoted to Ralph Pugliese - one of the Long Island wine pioneers who unfortunately recently passed away. He was a wonderful man and one of the first people I met when I came to Long Island in 1992. He had this huge smile, a strong handshake, and was always generous and friendly. At our first meeting he loaded me up with 2 bottles of his wonderful champagne that had labels lovingly hand painted by his wife Pat.

You also may be wondering why I called it champagne instead of the politically correct term Sparkling Wine - Here is why...

...A long time ago around 1996 there was a Champagne tasting organized right here on the East End of Long Island. All local winemakers were invited; the director of the Champagne Bureau was there along with two famous French Champagne makers.

All the local Sparkling wines - Lenz, Pugliese, Pindar, and Wölffer (I think that was all back then) were tasted along with a great list of famous Champagnes. Once tasted we each made comments about the wines. After tasting one of the Long Island wines Ralph described the wine stating “This Champagne is...” – the French Bureau Director would instantly correct him by saying, “It’s a sparkling wine!”

A couple of wines later, Ralph turned again to describe the next local wine. “Well, I think this Champagne is as good as...” – the French Bureau Director would again instantly interrupt him, “It’s a sparkling wine!”

The third time this happened Ralph hit his fist on the table making all the glasses jump stating “Well I’m from Brooklyn, and if it’s got bubbles we call it Champagne!” After that he never got interrupted again.

So to honor Ralph I will write about Sabrage - Opening a bottle of “Champagne” with a sword:

The tradition of sabering a bottle of Champagne goes back to the time of Napoleon Bonaparte and his Saber rattling army. The officers would at first celebrate their victories and later their terrible losses by taking a bottle of Champagne, knocking off the bottle head with their sabers and then Voila! - pour it down their thirsty throats.

This tradition has continued to this day and is still a great party trick that can transform an ordinary opening of a Champagne bottle from a slight sigh into a loud POP with flying bottle head and cork. Sabering also causes a gushing of some of the golden liquid into the air (and subsequently onto the ground) – not to mention the dramatic sweep of the saber down the champagne bottle creating a theatrical moment for all your guests!

It’s like slamming a bottle against a hull at a christening of a new ship. It certainly can help to make an event memorable...just make sure you don’t take out some one’s eye or have the bottle explode in your hand or it will be a memory to be forgotten.

All you need is a big saber (Laguiole makes a special and wonderful version) or substitute it with your biggest Kitchen knife (Crocodile Dundee size). I have heard that people have done it with a teaspoon but somehow that does not have the same dramatic effect as a real saber.

The key is not to just wildly whack at the bottle head or you will risk that the bottle will burst in your hand. To do it successfully and safely there are a few steps to follow. Just follow my father’s mantra - “Do it right or don’t do it at all!”

  1. Have the bottle of Champagne or Sparkling Wine chilled.
  2. Remove all the foil around the bottle neck.
  3. Loosen the wire hood, lift it to the top lip on the bottle and tighten it again.
  4. Hold the bottle at a 35 degree angle and find the seam (a fine line) that runs along the side of the bottle (where the seam hits the lip of the neck is the point where you want to strike the lip with your saber as it is the weakest spot.)
  5. Point away from people, pets, artwork, windows etc.
  6. Now grip the bottle firmly at the bottom, take your saber and slide it along the seam upwards towards the lip. It will hit the lip and be propelled by your hit and by the CO2 pressure within the bottle; the bottle head will shoot into the air up to 35 feet. Make sure you use the blunt end of the saber sliding it smoothly, precisely and swiftly toward the lip.
  7. Have champagne flutes ready to start the celebration. And don’t worry about shards of glass – the force of the CO2 pressure prevents any broken glass being in the champagne bottle. However, always pour the first glass for yourself and check just to make sure.
  8. I strongly recommend rehearsing this outdoors and actually getting hands-on instructions from an expert before you try this yourself!

Below is a beautiful roasted oyster recipe that is dramatic and rich enough to pair with a perfectly sabered bottle of Champagne. Choose one of the many fantastic sparkling wines made here on Long Island. Our climate is ideal to make wonderful, vibrant sparkling wines in the Methode Champenoise style.

So now go practice, practice, practice the art of Sabrage!

Oysters Sabrage

This is an elegant introduction to dinner after sabering a bottle of champagne and will delight your guests. I use the Wölffer Verjus whose tart/sweet juice balances the taste of the shallots in the mignonette. And to make me happy, serve with one of Wölffer’s Sparkling Wines!


For mignonette:

    • 2 teaspoons Wölffer Verjus
    • 1-1/2 teaspoons finely chopped shallots
    • Pinch of coarsely ground black pepper
    • Pinch of sugar
    • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

For oysters:

  • 1-1/2 cups kosher or other coarse salt
  • 1/2 dozen Long Island oysters; shells scrubbed well and
  • oysters left on the half shell, their liquor reserved and oysters picked over for shell fragments
  • 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
  • 1 small cluster Champagne table grapes or 2 finely diced seedless red grapes


Make mignonette:

Stir together Verjus, shallots, pepper, and sugar and let stand 30 minutes (can be made one day ahead and chilled).

Prepare oysters:

Preheat broiler.

Spread 3/4 cup salt in an 8- to 10-inch flameproof shallow baking dish or pan. Arrange oysters on their shells in salt, then top each with a piece of butter. Broil 4 to 6 inches from heat until butter is melted and sizzling and edges of oysters are beginning to curl, 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir parsley into mignonette. Divide remaining 3/4 cup salt between 2 plates and arrange 3 oysters on each. Spoon 1/4 teaspoon mignonette over each oyster and sprinkle oysters with grapes. Serve warm.

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