At St. Regis hotels and resorts worldwide — including our own St. Regis Deer Valley — an evening ritual takes place. According to the folks at St. Regis, tradition plays an important part in their legacy, and so, the hotel has been following a tradition that dates back to the battles of Napoleon Bonaparte, who would famously use a saber to open bottles of Champagne. The St. Regis has made this ritual their own with a 6:30 p.m. sabering that celebrates the transition from day to night. Lights are dimmed, candles are lit, and Champagne is sipped — Champagne that’s been opened using a saber.
And so, rather than the customary sound of a cork popping, guests of the St. Regis are treated to the sight and sound of Champagne sabering. St. Regis Deer Valley Wine Director Mark Moulton has trained various staff members in the art of sabering, and it’s a procedure that’s pretty dramatic. He says that the “alternative method of opening Champagne via a saber had to do with people being on horseback and sort of showing off, having the Champagne bottle in one hand and a saber in the other.”
When you watch someone sabering open a Champagne bottle, it may look as though the saber is knifing right through the glass at the bottle’s neck — but that’s an illusion. The truth is — spoiler alert — that you can saber open a bottle of Champagne with a butter knife, or even a spoon.
Mark explained the technique, and it’s something you can try at home. Although I’d recommend sabering outdoors. “The sabers themselves have kind of a blunt edge,” he said. “The saber edge isn’t sharp like a sword or kitchen knife. In fact, if you wanted to use a kitchen knife for sabering, you’d want to rotate the knife to the dull edge.”
He continues, “Champagne bottles are fused together from two halves. So, if you look at a bottle, there are lines [seams] on either side that run from the bottom to the top of the bottle. After you remove the foil and the metal cage from the Champagne bottle, you want to line up the saber with that seam on the neck of the bottle. That’s the weakest part of the bottle and allows you to knock the top off of the bottle with very little effort.”
The key to sabering is preparing the bottle. Mark says, “We put the bottle neck down in a bucket of ice — the idea being that we’re bringing down the temperature of the Champagne, but also making the glass very cold. The colder the glass, the more brittle it is.” He also stresses that in sabering, you’re not “chopping” at the bottle. In fact, it’s just the opposite. “You don’t want hardly any bias or angle. The saber should lie almost flat on the neck of the bottle. The idea is to rapidly slide the saber up the neck of the bottle, just catching the lip and letting the properties of Champagne take over.” Since the wine in the bottle is fiercely pressurized, the force of the air pressure will help blow the top off of the bottle, along with any bits of glass. For it to happen, Mark stresses that the saber must lay almost flat along the seam of the bottle neck.
The best part? St. Regis Deer Valley pours the Champagne into glasses for guests to enjoy following the sabering ritual. À votre santé.