Sabrage is a technique for opening a champagne bottle with a sabre, used for ceremonial occasions. The saber is slid along the body of the bottle toward the neck. The force of the blade hitting the lip breaks the glass to separate the collar from the neck of the bottle. The cork and collar remain together after separating from the neck.
This technique became popular in France when the army of Napoleon visited many of the aristocratic domains. It was just after the French Revolution and the saber was the weapon of choice of Napoleon’s fearsome cavalry (the Hussars). Napoleon’s spectacular victories across all Europe gave them plenty of reason to celebrate. During these parties the cavalry would open the Champagne with their sabers. Napoleon probably encouraged this and is known to have said: “Champagne! In victory one deserves it; in defeat one needs it.”
There are many stories about this tradition. One of the more spirited tales is that of Madame Clicquot, who had inherited her husband’s small Champagne house at the age of 27. She used to entertain Napoleon’s officers in her vineyard, and as they rode off in the early morning with their complimentary bottle of Champagne, they would open it with their saber to impress the rich young widow.
Over at the Haute Cabriere wine estate in Franchhoek, Achim von Arnim frequently shows off his sabrage skills. It’s a breathtaking thing to watch, but a hobby reserved for the lofty rich. The swords are beautiful though and, as serendipity would have it, I’ve been given my own French Sabre Briquet.
A chance encounter via a mutual wine acquaintance, I befriended Sabrage RSA on Facebook and the owner, Dan, sent me a message that he would like me to have one of these beautiful objects. It arrived yesterday, by courier and I swanned around the house wielding it in a manner quite like Madame Cliquot.
My grandiose fantasies were short-lived, no champagne for me on a Monday. But it was fish pie night, and an ordinary old glass of Sauvignon Blanc did me all right …
Four cups flaked braaid snoek (or any other firm white fish)
Two handfuls each of broccoli and cauliflower
A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
250ml parsley sauce
White pepper (I used no salt as the snoek is a salty fish)
Cover with mashed potato (with egg for glazing)
Bake at 180C for 25 minutes
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