3 CHAMPAGNE TOUJOURS: Let’s talk Sabering. CHAMPAGE’s Noble art.
Champagne GH Mumm is the Champagne house synonymous with the art of sabrage, the Noble Art of sabering.
Some twenty years after the founding of GH Mumm Champagne in Riems, the Mumm family invited le Legion d’Honneur to their circuitous underground caves for a reception. A guest, impatient with the cellarmaster for taking too long to uncork what they were anticipating, by-passing the unwinding of the string that then held the corks, he took his sabre to the bottle. Unexpectedly his sabre hit on the vulnerable spot, the ridge where the top meets the neck, and the cork came sailing out. Voila! The “Noble Art of Sabrage” had begun.
After these illustrious guests had downed millions of Mumm’s bubbles, another, not so steady-on-his-feet legionnaire exclaimed, “Let us award Mumm’s excellent Champagne le Legion d’Honneur.” Thus Mumm’s “Cordon Rouge” Champagne received its name along with the Legion’s red sash, Mumm’s first award.
Sabrage is not without dangers, so should not, without the cautions advised below, become a party trick or game. Otherwise you might wish you also practiced law. The possibility of the bottle shattering, scattering lethal shards all over the sabreur and guests is great if the laws of sabering are not followed. Even Julia Child, who was an excellent sabreuse, and who truly loved to do it, surprised herself by breaking a magnum once on National TV. Probably the bottle had not been properly prepared for her. If these simple rules are followed you will delight and surprise yourself and your guests, as that legionnaire did long ago.
After second fermentation, most bottles of Champagne are at “full mousse”, or six atmospheres of pressure, or contain 90 pounds per square inch. That bottle therefore can be some powerful weapon, and caution must be taken.
1. The bottle should be very cold, especially the neck of the bottle. Immerse it deep in ice for a good hour.
2. A real Champagne “sabre” should be used. A Champagne sabre, such as those LaGuiole make for Champagne houses, is never sharpened. The “blade” side of the sabre is simply very narrow but not sharp. It is not meant to cut anything, merely to encourage the top to separate itself and fly away on the pressure of the bubbly mousse.
3. A cloth should be placed about fifteen feet in front of the sabering, and guests should be spread away from where the cork is expected to fly and to land.
4. Handling the neck area as little as possible to maintain its frigid temperature, keeping the bottle on a slight upward angle, carefully remove the wrapping, find the lateral seam along one long side of the bottle, and unwind the six counterclockwise turns of the wire muzzle, carefully opening it as you do so.
5. If the sabreur is right-handed, with a napkin grasp the bottle near to the bottom with the left hand, while with the right hand slide the sabre as close to parallel to the bottle as possible up the seam twice. On the second slide, with the same parallel motion, with conviction tap the rim of the neck where the wire used to be fastened. Just that slight pressure should be enough to send the cork and the top of the glass bottle flying about fifteen feet into the air on a sigh of bubbles.
The pressure remaining inside the bottle is sufficient to prevent any small pieces of glass from entering the bottle. But as a cautionary, pour out the first drops before serving the rest of the sabered bottle. The napkin that was used to hold the bottle should continue to be used to prevent the bottle from slipping in the hand of the server as the neck where the top was removed is extremely sharp and can cut easily.
These simple cautions should make sabering safe and fun, causing quite a sensation at your next Champagne party. I hope you have one daily.
One more word of advice: only Champagne has 6 atmospheres of pressure built up in the bottle during its long and slow fermentation. Other sparkling wines of less pressure will not have as ebullient a result as a bottle of Champagne.
Sante and Bon Appetit!
Do not forget: Julius Caesar did invent Champagne.
P.S. The photos I used to show you where the Real Lion King, Agamemnon, lived, I took at his city of Mycenae. Several of the photos were taken in Mycenae’s Museum, and are of discoveries made by Archaeologist Elizabeth French. Mycenae and its museum are waiting for you too to voyage back into the Bronze Age. Don’t forget the Champagne for your picnic with the Real Lion King.