The art of sabrage at The Ritz

The Ritz’s sword-wielding sommelier shares the secrets of the flamboyant art of sabrage

Image: Chris Burke

Nothing says decadence quite like opening a bottle of champagne with a sword. I’ve performed sabrage at birthday parties, up mountains, out of the kitchen window, in The Bar at the Dorchester and at my own wedding. And these days I’m quite a dab hand at it. 

One place I have not, as yet, sliced the top off a bottle of champagne is The Ritz. But that may soon be about to change, as The Ritz was recently made a member of the Confrérie du Sabre d’Or, a sort of masonic association for people who are into this kind of thing. 

“The art of sabrage dates back 200 years to the days when Napoleon’s young cavalry used to celebrate their successes using their own swords to sabre bottles of champagne,” explains Giovanni Ferlito, the hotel’s own certified maître sabreur, who can be borrowed for private events in the hotel’s 18th-century William Kent House. 

“To do it yourself, the first thing you need to do is find one of the two seams along the sides of a bottle of champagne and cut out the foil around it to create a runway for the blade. Remove the cage. Firmly hold the bottle at 30 degrees with your thumb inside the punt and place the blade flat on the bottle. 

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“Then, with a shaving motion, slide the blade –there is no need for it to be sharp – along the seam until it meets the glass ring around the cork, and follow through with elegance while hitting the weakest part of the bottle. The cork will fly dramatically away! The result should be a neat cut and also ensure that no glass falls back inside the bottle.” 

In my experience sabrage isn’t about brute force, but swing. If you get that right you can do it with almost anything. I managed to sabre a bottle with the foot of a champagne flute – once (the first time was a success; the second time was rather more messy). And you can find people doing it with all sorts of things on YouTube: a clothes iron, a spoon, even an iPhone. I’m reliably  informed the president of Devaux Champagne, Laurent Gillet, likes to sabre his champagne sur la piste, with a ski. I think that’s very dashing. 

You’ll improve your chances of success if the bottle is really cold and really heavy. Prestige cuvées tend to have the most heft, with Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame weighing in at a whopping 1.25kg. Failing that, a bottle of Krug or the recently released Bollinger RD 2004 would be just fine too. 

I tend to do most of my sabring with a vintage sword. If you’d prefer something a bit more contemporary, Cocktail Kingdom does a very smart stainless-steel number designed by top US bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler. And then all you really need is a party. Just make sure everyone stands well back.

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