How to Saber a Bottle of Champagne

by Dave Arnold, French Culinary Institute
How to Saber a Bottle of Champagne

Before we start: I don’t want to hear anything about saber vs sabre. Both are acceptable spellings, I do not fence, and saber looks more American.

While we are clearing the air, many people feel that sabering sparkling wine is useless and wasteful. I disagree. Sabering expensive champagne is wasteful (if you make a mistake). Sabering a $7 cava is an exhilarating and awesome party trick. Whether or not a bottle will saber depends only on the bottle, not the price of the wine – so stick with the inexpensive.

What is sabering? Sabering is the art of cleanly severing the top off a bottle of sparkling wine. You hit the lower lip of the top of the champagne bottle and snap off the top of the neck. Yes, you break the glass; No, the glass doesn’t get into the drink because the momentum carries it away from the neck (but you may get a shard on the floor so be careful). This works because there is a sharp radius where the lip meets the neck that concentrates stress, making the bottle want to snap cleanly.

Here is the procedure:

  1. Select a bottle that looks like a standard champagne bottle. Don’t pick one with a funky neck – it might not work (although I have a friend who can saber beer bottles). Super-important tip: select a bottle you KNOW will saber. If you sabered a bottle before (Paul Chenaux Cava, for instance or Gruet sparkling), odds are it will work again. If you have failed with a bottle before (Cristallino Cava), you will probably fail again. You don’t want to fail, it is embarrassing.
  2. The bottle should be cold and let it rest upright for a while before you saber it. Be gentle with the bottle before you saber. Warmer bottles are easier to saber but tend to gush. The best saber jobs don’t gush at all (take that anti-saber snobs). You’ll see gushing in the bottles on the video because they warmed up while we were shooting and were treated roughly.
  3. Don’t take off the wire cage until you are ready (or the cork may come out on its own).
  4. Get a knife. It doesn’t need to be heavy. In fact it doesn’t have to be a knife. I made a stainless steel pimp ring to saber at parties. REMEMBER: you are using the back (dull) side of the knife. I saw a drunk friend one night forget this and ruin a good chef’s knife.
  5. Find the seam running up the side of the bottle. The seam is a weak point in the glass and further concentrates the stress when you hit the lip.
  6. Angle the bottle away from you, your friends, glass, and food (don’t want any glass getting in your food).
  7. Place knife on the bottle’s seam at the bottom of the neck making sure you keep the knife flat against the bottle. If you don’t, the knife has a tendency to pop over the lip of the bottle.
  8. The moment of truth. Slide the knife smoothly, surely, and SQUARELY up the neck of the bottle and sever the top. It doesn’t take force, just confidence. The biggest and most common mistake is to swing the knife in an arc. If you swing in an arc, even a small one, you won’t hit the glass in the right place and you won’t sever the neck.
  9. If it doesn’t work, try again. Don’t try 5 or 6 times on the same bottle. Seems desperate and if the bottle doesn’t want to saber and you force it to, you might get a bad break.
  10. Remember that the momentum carries all the glass shards away from the neck and your drink (that’s why I told you to hold it at an angle).

Well, there it is.  We are starting a list of which bottles saber well and which don’t, so please leave a comment on the Cooking Issues blog to tell us.

This article is courtesy of the French Culinary Institute. Learn more about the French Culinary Institute, and how you can take your culinary career to the next level.

Related Articles