Never would describe myself as an adrenaline junkie, but I've recently gotten hooked on the heart-pounding thrill of popping the top off a bottle of bubbly using something sharp and sword-ish, an ancient art called sabering. Legend goes that Napoleon's army couldn't be bothered with stopping to uncork Champagne in the traditional way, so soldiers used their swords. Fast forward hundreds of years, and sabering has become a show-stopping party trick. Here's how to do it.

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First time I witnessed sabering in person was when Jacques Pepin appeared in Seattle last fall, part of his 80th birthday celebration. Like everything the French chef does, he made it look so easy. Zoom up the side of the bottle and pop goes the cork.

Then, during a pre-holiday Tasting Panel rating cheap sparklers, three pros sabered, demonstrating their unique styles. Winemaker/master sommelier Jeff Lindsey-Thorsen used the base of a champagne flute for a whole lot of drama. Top Chef Masters star, Thierry Rautureau, used a knife, and sommelier/restaurateur Jake Kosseff pulled a saber from a custom case.

Sabering Basics

  • The sparkling wine should be well-chilled. To speed the process, place bottles in icy water and add salt.
  • Find the seam that runs from the bottom of the bottle to the lip. That's the line that will guide your saber to the weakest spot on the bottle, primed to pop.
  • Hold the bottle at a slight angle, and make sure everyone is behind you.
  • Run the object you're opening the bottle with along the seam with speed and strength. It should pop right off.
  • If possible, saber outside. That way, you don't have to mop up any bubbly that splashes out.
  • This is a potentially dangerous trick — I've seen a bottle explode and glass go flying — so use EXTREME caution.

Armed with these essential lessons, I first tried sabering while filming a segment for Seattle Refined. My first attempt, using a Champagne flute, was a fail, with the glass breaking. But I quickly rebounded, grabbing the nearest knife and — BOOM! — the cork flew off. It was such a blast.

Months later, I was invited to participate in a sabering competition, going up against the seasoned pros who taught me everything I know. At POP!, I knew fierce competitors would bring their A+ game, so I cooked up a novel approach, dressing as a lumberjack and using a hatchet. It impressed the judges, and I made it into the finals. I opened three bottles, including

. The flute didn't break this time and I was crowned champ, winning a magnum of Piper-Heidsieck and a fabulous chef's knife. So cool!

sabering close up photo by Vanessa Greaves
Photo by Vanessa Greaves

I followed up a few days later by doing a how-to workshop at Allrecipes' HQ in downtown Seattle, where a few daring colleagues stepped up to give it a whack. Success! Eight out of eight bottles were opened including one sabered with a dinner knife. A video of that relatively safe approach lives on our Clever Cooks page, a fun feature on the site.