An age-old way to get the party started is back in style in D.C.
Iron Gate, Conosci, The St. Regis, and others are all in on the sabering game these days. The historic technique involves dramatically slicing off the collar of a bottle of bubbly.
Glass typically comes along for the ride with the cork — which can be propelled up to 30 feet away. “There is no sure-fire way of doing it successfully,” Iron Gate sommelier Oliver Meade warned. “It can go wrong — I’ve seen glass go all ways.”
At the nightly 6 p.m. ceremony at The St. Regis — a hotel-wide tradition started by founder John Jacob Astor IV — one errant cork recently landed in a woman’s purse.
French Champagne and wines produced according to the méthode champenoise are the ideal candidates for sabering, Meade said, since they tend to have the most pressure (five to six atmospheres). The eye-popping display dates back to the days of Napoleon Bonaparte, a renowned Champagne fanatic who found any excuse to down the luxurious beverage. “After battle they would saber Champagne bottles to commiserate or celebrate,” explained Meade, who’s been at it for two years.
Meade described his very first attempt as “nerve-wracking.” He currently shears off corks exclusively on Iron Gate’s patio — which means summer is prime time to catch the spectacle (saber-centric events are in the works).
While DIY sabering isn’t encouraged, Meade offers a few tips.
The blade, which shouldn’t leave the seam of the bottle, should slide past the cork. Follow through on that motion past the tip of the bottle, at roughly a 45 degree angle, and a resounding report ought to ensue.
“The whole point of it is it’s a big talking point and fun thing, especially when people hear a pop and come back with a nice bottle of wine,” he said.
The ceremonial sabering at the St. Regis is a formal affair, meant to mark the passing of the afternoon into the evening.
“We think Champagne is not just for special occasions. It’s great all the time,” is how Andy Powell, beverage manager and sommelier at the St. Regis, explained the daily ritual. The subsequent happy hour features Moet, and anyone is invited to partake in the action.
Iron Gate opts to borrow a chef’s knife for the act, while Conosci keeps an actual saber on hand for its performances.
“We are typically willing to saber any sparkling wine upon request, as long as it has a closure that is conducive to sabering,” said Eric DiNardo, beverage director for the D.C. side of Schlow Restaurant Group, the parent company behind Conosci.
Conosci’s saber-worthy sparkers start at $47 with a Prosecco Col Fondo; DiNardo said the bottles most routinely slashed are its two Champagnes ($99 each).