Champagne or sparkling wine is the quintessential celebratory drink of the New Year and life’s special occasions. The delightful flavors and bubbles compliment happiness and laughter like no other wine. We are all familiar with the loud pop that sparkling wines make when they are opened, and the most dramatic visions of opening sparkling wine include a flying cork as the sparkling wine shoots out of the bottle like a fountain. If you are wine history buff, you may also know about sabrage or sabering sparkling wine. Sabering involves the use of a saber (or chefs knife) to remove the cork by breaking the bottle at the annulus, the glass ring at the top of the bottle. Sabrage became popular in France during the Napoleonic Wars. These visions can add excitement or apprehension to opening wine depending on the venue and the celebration. In this article, we’ll look at the key techniques to opening sparkling wine whether you pop the cork or grab a saber and lop the top off the bottle.
In both techniques, you are using the built-up pressure of the sparkling wine to remove the cork. If you want the champagne to spray like a fountain for dramatic effect, simply shake the bottle lightly 2-3 times.
How to Hold a Champagne Bottle When Opening It
Before you start, keep in mind that sparkling wines are under pressure, when you handle the wine, keep the cork pointed in a clear direction, away from your face, other people’s faces, windows or fragile objects. Read our feature on "How Sparkling Wine and Champagne Are Made" to learn more about how these wines are pressurized.
There are different ways to hold the bottle. Use your dominant hand to hold the base of the bottle either with your thumb in the punt (indentation on the bottom of the bottle), or wrapped around the bottle. If opening the cork, you can grip the bottle around the neck. You can also place your fingers around the base of the bottle, parallel to the bottom or extended up towards the neck (this is recommended for sabering, as it keeps your hand and fingers away from the blade. Choose the position that feels the steadiest for you.
How to Pop the Champagne Cork
To pop the cork, you’ll need a bottle of chilled sparkling wine, a towel and glasses for drinking. Preferably, use flute glasses or coupe glasses as these are specifically made for drinking Champagne in. Wipe the bottle and make sure your hands are dry, remove the protective foil from the top of the bottle. (Learn more in "A Guide to Wine Glasses".)
Under the protective foil, the cork is secured with a metal top in a wire cage, using the key on the wire cage, loosen the cage and remove it. From here you have three methods to remove the cork.
Let the Cork Fly
If you have a clear path and want to let the cork take flight, hold the bottle in your dominant hand, wrap your index and middle finger around the neck, and use your thumb to apply upward pressure to the cork, you can use your dominant hand to twist the bottle towards you as you feel the cork move. Expect to hear a pop as the cork releases from the bottle.
Catch the Cork
If you want to remove the cork without flight, you should begin by holding the bottle in your dominant hand. With your other hand, wrap your thumb and fingers around the cork and hold firmly, now twist the bottle towards you. You will feel the cork loosen, move and hear the classic "pop" as the cork releases into your hand.
How to Saber the Cork
Sabering uses the natural pressure of the wine along with the weaknesses of the bottle to remove the cork and the top of the bottle at and above the annulus. Before you saber your sparkling wine, place your chilled bottle in the freezer for 10-15 minutes prior to sabering, this chills the glass, making it more brittle. After you have removed the foil and the wire cage, inspect the bottle and find the seam. The seam runs the length of the bottle and is an impression left from when the bottle was molded. Structurally, the seam is the weakest part of the bottle, remember where the seam is, as this is the line you will follow up the bottle to the annulus with the saber. The weakness of the seam and the annulus give the pressure (approximately 36 pounds). You don’t have to worry about the glass being in your sparkling wine, as the pressure inside the bottle removes any glass. You can expect the cork to take a flight from 10 feet to 30 feet, so make sure you have a clear path for the cork to travel.
Wipe the bottle dry with a towel, and with dry hands, hold the bottle in your dominant hand and wrap your fingers around the bottle; hold the bottle at an angle, with the seam side up.
Grip the saber or chefs knife firmly by the handle, and hold it almost flat against the bottle. Use the middle of the blade, to strike the annulus; if you use the tip of the blade, you will lose pressure. Place the blade about 4-5 inches from the annulus, with moderate consistent pressure and constant contact between the blade and bottle, slide the saber up to the annulus fairly quickly. Once the blade hits the annulus, the glass will break and the cork will be removed. If nothing happens, make sure that you have a good grip on the bottle and are applying equal pressure to the bottle and the saber. If the hand holding the bottle is loose, the pressure applied to the saber will tip the bottle. If you are not holding enough or consistent pressure, the blade will make a "clanking" sound on the bottle. Don’t worry, just try again, making sure your hands and the bottle are dry.
Also be sure to research the correct pressure application for the bottle size you own. Our guide "10 Wine Bottle Sizes You Didn't Know Existed" explains the different sizes Champagne bottles can come in.
It should be noted that using a saber or chef knife is more for dramatic effect and appearance, sabering is about exploiting the pressure of the sparkling wine and the weaknesses of the bottle, by using moderate, equal and consistent pressure.
This Video by Sommelier Matias Benjamin Vergara demonstrates that moderate, equal and consistent pressure are the keys to safely opening sparkling wine by sabering with a glass.
Tips for Serving and Handling Sparkling Wine
When serving a sparkling wine or Champagne, the sparkling wine should be between 45 and 48-degrees Fahrenheit; the bottle should be chilled in the freezer for 10 -15 minutes prior to serving.
Wipe the bottle with a towel, because wet bottles are slippery, and this can be very dangerous for you and your guests.
If you don’t have a clear path for the cork to fly across the room, place a napkin or bar towel loosely over the top of the bottle, it will catch the cork when it releases from the bottle.
It should be noted that there are alternatives to Champagne, especially for special occasions and holidays. Sparkling wine and Champagne are technically the same, they differ in the methods used to carbonate them with carbon dioxide (CO2) and ferment them and where they are from. A quality sparkling wine can be just as good as a high-end Champagne, alternately, you can try a similar sparkling spirit from another country like Cava from Spain or Prosecco from Italy. Our feature, "Bring the New Year in with Bubbly: Champagne, Prosecco or Cava", explains more about these sparkling wine styles.