Most of the time afizzcionados will twist the bottle gently to release the cork with a discreet and decorous sigh, but sometimes something more spectacular is required. For those moments, I present sabrage. Its a little more challenging, and a lot more dangerous, but if you want to pop with panache, sabrage is the thing. If you have a sabre and you’re not afraid to use it, buckle your swash, ready your swagger, and cry ‘huzzah!’ – although strictly speaking that should be ‘hussar’ because its Napoleon’s soldiers who are credited with making sabrage popular.
So what to do?
First, chill your bottle. No honestly. Chill it properly. Do not just put it in the fridge for 5 minutes. Get it really cold perhaps in the fridge overnight. Just to make extra certain after chilling in the fridge, pop the bottle upside down in a bucket of ice for ten minutes. Just don’t shake it. Turn it upright with gentle reverence.
Then dry your bottle, and remove the foil – all of it.
At this point it is worth remembering that a bottle of fizz is a potential bomb. During secondary fermentation in the bottle, the yeast produces carbon dioxide bubbles which are trapped in the bottle and keen to escape. The pressure is roughly equivalent to the tyre pressure of a London bus – about 90 psi. In fact, before glass was really strong, bottles of fizz spontaneously exploded in the cellar and cellar-hands would wear iron masks to protect them from flying shards of glass. There is no need to fret about shattering modern bottles, but it is important to remember that the cork wants to come out – at speed.
So carefully remove the wire muzzle which holds the cork in place and keep your thumb firmly on the cork. You do not want premature evacuation.
Hold the bottle in your non-dominant hand. Hold it properly, that is, put your thumb firmly in the punt (the indentation at the bottom of the bottle) and balance the weight of the bottle on the rest of your hand. Holding your bottle this way will ensure that you don’t sabre your fingers.
Tip the bottle away from you at about a 45 degree angle. Aim it away from any other people too and any other fragile things, like windows. A country estate is very convenient, a council estate less so.
Turn the bottle until you find the manufacture seam in the glass. Trace it up to the neck. This is your breakpoint.
Here comes the science bit. Glass is brittle and can split dramatically from even a small crack if the bottle is under pressure – and yours is. The reason why your bottle needs to be cold is so that the glass is particularly brittle. Disregard the optimal drinking temperature of the wine, the bottle is chilled to thrill. Don’t bother – as is sometimes suggested – to score the neck of the bottle to guarantee that the glass will shear. Trust me it will if the bottle is cold enough.
Now wield your sabre. Strictly speaking, it does not have to be a sabre. Any sword will do: a broadsword, katana or cutlass is equally effective. I have even – disappointingly – seen this done with a butterknife, but surely this is the moment for style over substance. Use the back of the sabre blade rather than the cutting side of the blade. Lay the sword against the bottle on the seam. You may want to have a surreptitious practice of sliding the sabre smoothly over the bottle to the cork to get the feel of it. When performing sabrage, in one deft sweep you will firmly slide the sabre up the bottle and through the cork. Do not prepare to stop at the cork. Swing through – a bit like a golf swing. This movement has to be smooth and performed with confidence and conviction. You do not need to be forceful, but a weak, half-hearted attempt will result in a pathetic leapfrog off the top of the bottle.
As you sabre the bottle, the bottle will break around the neck leaving a glass ring. The cork and bottle top will disappear into the distance and will need to be retrieved later. Keep your eye on it. The fizz spurt will be most satisfactory. Scrutinise your annulus1 to ensure that the glass has broken cleanly and there are no glass splinters. Do not worry: the foaming fizz will have prevented anything from dropping into the bottle. Pour the fizz into a glass and enjoy.
As with so much in life, sabrage requires the appearance of confidence and a little swagger. With practice, it can be pretty efficient. Julio Chang sabred 55 bottles in 1 minute in March 2015. If you are having friends over, you might consider synchronised sabrage: 277 people popped their corks together in Brazil in 2013. What a party.