The art of sabrage: Opening champagne with a sword

Sabrage is the technique for opening a champagne bottle with a sabre (a fancy looking sword), used for ceremonial occasions. It was invented by Napoleon’s cavalry in the early 1800s to celebrate victory.

I had the opportunity to give this most ceremonial and decadent champagne opening method a try at a Mumm Champagne tasting hosted by Liquor Barons at the Pan Pacific Hotel.

Georges H. Mumm, the founding father, began high quality champagne production in 1827 in France and soon after exported it around the world.

When demonstrated, opening a champagne bottle, or rather cutting the top of it off, using the theatrical sabrage technique, looked quite straightforward and relatively easy.  The weak point of the bottle (the side seam and the collar), together with the pressure of the champagne inside the bottle means that the top of the bottle is cut off and any fragments of glass are pushed out, making the champagne safe to drink.

I was told with confidence that it was not difficult and that I would be able to do it. All I had to do was slide the sabre up along the seam on the neck of the bottle and hit the sabre against the collar of the bottle.

The Mumm champagne wire basket was loosened, the foil along the neck peeled away and I was given white gloves to put on (just to add to the theatrics).  I was feeling a tad nervous  but thought that it’s not every day you have a chance to cut the top off a champagne bottle, so why not?

Ok, champagne bottle held at an angle, tick.
Seam of the bottle facing me, tick.
Sabre pushed up the neck of the bottle to hit the collar, tick.
Champagne bottle cut open? No.

I was instructed to try it again. And again. And again. I was hitting the collar of the bottle with some force, yet it was not working. And worst of all, I had an audience. OMG, how embarrassing!

Dave the demonstrator took the bottle from me after I declared that the bottle of champagne I was holding was faulty, six attempts later. He tried it himself and low and behold – FAIL. Phew, that made me feel better. His second attempt – FAIL. Yippeee, I was looking better by the minute.  And his third attempt was also unsuccessful.  His fourth attempted worked, but the break was not clean so they decided it best to be safe and not drink that champagne.  The reason for this is that the champagne may have been corked. Oh well, at least it wasn’t my fault!

Two other bottles were opened sabrage style, one that took three or four attempts by an attractive and immensely tall model, and another that worked first go by another guest. It is indeed an impressive way to open champagne!

As for the champagne, we tried three kinds of G.H. Mumm:

  • Cordon Rouge NV (retails from $60 per bottle)
  • Rosé NV (retails for $90 per bottle)
  • Cuvée R Lalou (retails for $400 per bottle, on wine lists for $800)

It goes without saying that with a quality champagne house like Mumm, also the official champagne of the Forumula 1 Championship, that all the varieties we tasted were delicious and I would never refuse any of them!

The Cordon Rouge was clean with a very light aroma, elegant and had a long creamy finish.  The Rosé NV was like drinking a hot summer’s day. It was dry, light bubbles, light aroma, and all I could imagine was sitting around a table with some friends nibbling on fresh seafood.

The 1999 Cuvée R Lalou was my favourite. It was delicate, yet had depth, 100% elegant and the bubbles were tiny, barely dancing on my tongue. According to our notes, there are notes of nougat, orange, white flowers and honey. It has been on aged oak giving it extra depth. This is an exquisite example of champagne at its finest.

What a treat! It was a fantastic afternoon meeting and chatting with those in the know. Thanks for my journo friend for the invite, and thank you Liquor Barons for hosting.


Liquor Barons is the only Western Australian based independently owned and operated retail liquor group and has 41 stores in and around Perth with more opening in the near future.

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