Pic by Kimce Louw
This technique (sabrage) became popular in Francewhen 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 light 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, known to have said, “Champagne! In victory one deserves it; in defeat one needs it.”may have encouraged this.
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 ofChampagne, they would open it with their saber to impress the rich young widow.
It’s a silly business, sabrage. Champagne bottles are so easy to open without a sword, but there is always an adrenalin rush when the blade hits the lip of the bottle and not a shard of glass is lost in the process. When the bottle trots in at an average R850 retail price per bottle, the feeling of risk is increased tenfold.
Video by Ricardo Gouveia
It fell to me to open the bubbly at the final class of the Uncorked2 Wine School. Janice had honoured us with hosting the session at her home. We drank wines from Portugal and Germany, ending our foray into ‘Old World Wines’, before moving on to the New World and being privileged to taste the iconic Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and, finally, to being spoiled rotten with Springbok and herb / Wildebeest and olive pates and biltong to go with our South African wine of the day, Warwick’s Three Cape Ladies.
I didn’t jot down all the hilarious bon mots that spiced up the morning, what does stick in my mind is the hilarious banter about Janice’s gas-powered wine opener which was a gift from her husband, Sam, and Veronica’s quest to master using it.
Oh, and we were treated to a visit to Janice’s enviable wine cellar, where Ricardo indulged in a moment of lord of the manor fantasy …
I thoroughly enjoyed the course and cannot recommend it highly enough.