Every night at 5 p.m. in the lobby of the St. Regis Washington, D.C., there's a sight to see — the restaurant's sommelier or bartender sabring a bottle of champagne (in other words, cutting off the top of the bottle with a sword). The sword flies, the champagne is popped, and the surrounding guests get to share in the bottle.
It's a technique you learn early on when you start at Adour, the hotel's restaurant, explained sommelier Brent Kroll. It's easy to learn, but can be challenging to perfect — Kroll has mastered doing it with a sword, but has less of a success rate when he uses a champagne flute instead. Other workers have damaged the exit sign near the door of the lobby, or broken a window, due to flying corks. Sometimes, glass flies and occasionally, even if you get the technique right, the bottle explodes (everyone at the hotel who has done the sabring at least 50 times has had one explode on them, he said).
To learn the technique, find one of the two seams along the bottle, where there is the most pressure. Follow up the seam rapidly with the sword (which you lay flat against the bottle like a knife), and the bottle breaks. True champagnes (versus other sparkling wines) are usually easier to sabre than the cheap stuff (or "non-whale wines," as he jokes) because the bottles are more pressured, he said. If something happens and you chip the bottle without sabring, Kroll recommends people turn it around and start over again on the other seam. "The biggest mistake is to continue to hack away at it," he said. "That's dangerous."
Kroll teaches the technique to groups staying at the hotel, or during his wine classes. Occasionally, he'll have industry guests, like bartender Chantal Tseng of Tabard Inn or Anthony Lombardo of 1789, stop by and give it a go. "The first time anyone does it, I tell them to feel their heart," Kroll said. Everyone gets nervous.
Kroll alternates the type of wine they use for the ritual about once a month - it's usually a nice wine, but nothing insanely expensive. "I'm not sabring Dom or anything like that," he said. Sometimes two people show up to watch the event; sometimes it's a crowd of 20 or 30.
Kroll moves on to a new position at Neighborhood Restaurant Group next week, but the tradition continues on at the St. Regis.
· All Previous Whale Week Coverage [-EDC-]