Harry McWatters Sabres sparkling wine

Sumac Ridge founder Harry McWatters sabers a bottle of Steller’s Jay with a ski, pre 2010 Winter Games

(Updated Dec 14, 2013)

Last year the New York Times ran an interesting piece that explored the history of the Champagne cork. It wound up with a quick lesson on how to sabre. The only problem is, the instructions were a little light on detail. You really need to know how to do things right before you try this at home.

It wasn’t a sabering moment. But, growing up, I remember one cork ‘going off’ that shattered a pristine Regency ceiling centre-piece.

The force with which the cork propelled itself from the Champagne bottle was quite remarkable. In fact, for a young boy, the impressive destruction wrought on my godfather’s ceiling proved to be the highlight of the Christmas holiday.

However, when it comes to opening any sparkling wine, you really can’t be careful enough.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), improperly aimed popped Champagne corks is one of the most common causes for holiday-related serious eye injuries.

Safety First

The average Champagne cork is restraining about three times the pressure that’s in your car tires. So, if you value your safety, or that of your guests here’s a few rules for opening bubble (even without a sabre), be it a magnum of Moët or a bottle of Segura.

– Chill and still: let it sit in the fridge for at least a few hours.

– Carefully remove the wire cage. Once done, place a tea towel over the top and keep your hand on it.

– Twist don’t push: Hold the cork firmly (the tea towel helps) with one hand and gently twist the bottle itself with the other, keeping it pointed away from anybody, including yourself.

This way you’ll get a controlled, safe opening – and you shouldn’t spill any wine. And once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to impress your guests with just how quietly you actually do it.


My friend Leann has pretty good style. I think she’s been practising!



If you truly do fancy yourself a sabreur, here’s a primer—though (legal disclaimer!) we take no responsibility for any injuries. We’ve witnessed at least one highly experienced food and beverage director sustain serious cuts to his hand.

• Wear long sleeves or even gloves

• Chill it, still. We say at least 24 hours lying undisturbed in the fridge

• Choose your weapon carefully. If, for some unlikely reason, you don’t have a decent sword hanging around, the blunt edge of a  knife or chopper is good.

• Head outside to the deck

Do not shake the bottle

• Examine the bottle for the seam that runs its length. If you can’t find a seam, forget it. Not striking the seam risks exploding the bottle

Remove the wire cage—and any foil wrapping the neck

• Cradle the bottle in one hand with the seam facing you and centered, and the neck away from you

• Point it away from other people or unsuspecting creatures that may be wandering by

• Slowly slide the edge of your ‘sabre’ away from you, gently but firmly, along the seam to get used to the movement—but not yet connecting to the neck flange

• With one smooth sweep, slide the ‘sabre’ the length of the neck so it connects with the neck flange precisely at the point where the seam joins it. The cork and neck should fly off and you’ll have a couple of seconds (maybe!) to locate the glass that you have placed nearby in anticipation.***

• Don’t try this having already drunk a bottle of champagne (or anything else…)

Still looking for a New Year’s bottle? Here’s a few sparklers worth checking out…