I love champagne. I grew up with an uncle who drank champagne every day, from tiny little split bottles. I remember as a little kid opening his fridge and the whole door was lined with tiny bottles of bubbly. Years later, when I lived in France, I visited the Champagne region and learned from my hosts that every day, there is something worth celebrating. It might just be that the mailman arrived with the daily bills. Hooray, let’s pop open a bottle! Even when I was pregnant and not drinking much of anything, I was inclined to have bubbly as my special occasional treat. But for my whole life, I had always been terrified of opening a bottle.
And with good reason: the pressure in a champagne bottle is typically between 70 and 90 pounds per square inch. That's two to three times the pressure in your car's tires, about the same as in a double-decker bus' tire.
So there I was, doomed to a life of loving champagne but never being able to open it myself. Was I to depend on others all my life to serve up the bubbly? Thankfully, no. A couple of years ago, I attended a retreat called the Mighty Summit, and my friend Helen Jane taught me how to saber a bottle of champagne. Sabrage, as it is formally called, is a ceremonial way of opening a bottle of champagne.
And all you need is a nice, cold bottle of bubbly, a big knife — it doesn’t need to be a sabre, and it doesn’t even need to be sharp — and an event that deserves some theatrics. Instead of forcing the cork out of the top of the bottle, we just cut out the middle man and shear the whole top of the bottle off. Somehow, this potentially lethal way of opening bottles cured me of my fear. Not particularly logical, but sometimes, in order to face your fears, you need to run straight at them, brandishing a large knife.
So how does it work? Well, all that pressure in the bottle is created during champagne’s second fermentation process, when cane sugar and yeast are added to each bottle. It produces alcohol and carbon dioxide, resulting in the bubbles we all know and love, and the pressure I so feared.
This is also the reason why all champagnes have extremely thick corks and extra thick bottles. But there is a weakness in the bottle. It’s where the two seams going up the sides of the bottle meet with the annulus, which is the glass lip just below the wire basket. And that intersection of fault lines is the secret to sabrage.
How do you do it?
The bottle must be cold, and of decent quality; cheap bottles tend to explode, which creates a decidedly less festive mood. Remove the foil and carefully remove the wire basket. Next, find one of the two seams along the side of the bottle, and remove the foil going down the neck of the bottle.
With your arm extended, hold the bottle firmly by placing the thumb inside the punt at the base of the bottle. Be sure the neck of the bottle is pointing up - about 30 degrees from horizontal. Make sure nothing fragile is in your line of fire, like a glass window, your grandparents, etc.
Oh, and have some glasses ready!
What you’ll do is run the edge of the knife up the seam of the bottle right into that glass lip under the cork. The firm pressure of the knife edge against that weak point in the bottle, along with the pressure already inside, is all it takes, and usually with just one stroke of the knife...
* POP *
I wanted to share this with you in hopes that you will celebrate whatever happened today that brought you joy, made you think, or inspired you to take a risk. And to encourage you to face your fears, learn something new, and take a leap of faith; there may be bubbly on the other side.