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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I was at a wedding where the groom cut off the top of a bottle of Champagne with a sword. I was horrified that everyone was drinking from it—wouldn’t there be shards of glass?
—Eric H., Sacramento, Calif.
The technique of opening a bottle with a saber is called sabrage. One of the most interesting details about the process is that the saber isn’t—or doesn’t have to be—sharp. If you don’t have an official flat–edged saber, you can use the back of a chef’s knife, butter knife or even a spoon. I’ve even seen video of a bottle being sabered by an iPhone. You just need a flat metal object to take advantage of a sparkling bottle’s weak point: the stress concentration at the intersection of the bottle’s seam and bottom lip.
See, the pressure inside a bottle of bubbly is so strong that a small fracture will allow the liquid inside to burst out, and the glass will break off with a clean split—no shards of glass go back inside. The pressure per square inch is somewhere around 70 to 90 pounds, double to triple the amount of pressure in your car tires. Sabering creates a crack that allows the pressure inside the bottle to release.
How to saber? Chill the bottle fully. Stand outside, where no one will be hit with a piece of flying cork and glass. Remove all the foil and the wire basket, or "cage." Find the seam that runs vertically along the length of the bottle. Grab the bottle from the bottom. This is one time that I put my thumb in the punt and hold the rest of the bottle from the back, keeping my fingers out of the way. Hold the bottle at a 30° to 45° angle to minimize spilling.
Scrape the flat metal tool you’re using against the seam, putting a little extra oomph when you hit the bottom lip of the bottle, but continue with the motion, as if you’re going to push the cork out. I sometimes scrape a few times getting the nerve to put added pressure—but it really doesn’t take much. It's not the most efficient way to open a bottle of sparkling wine—you’re going to lose some wine in the process, and the new edge will be sharp—but it sure can be exciting!
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