Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Put Away the Saber

In general, I don't like sabering champagne. It's flashy and ostentatious, and I don't like flashy and ostentatious things. Plus it's just obnoxious. Sommeliers with sabers tend to be the wine world equivalent of frat boys looking to show off, and waving a big, long sword around just smacks of overcompensation.

If you're intent on whacking the top off of your champagne bottle, you've got to do it with style. My friend Josh, author of the Wine Tastings Guide website and its newsletter, The Poor Man's Guide to Fine Wine, shows us a classy way to do it with a bottle of Gimonnet's 2002 Fleuron:


Johnny said...

I don't know if this is proper to write, but still if it is I just wan't to say: sabring has nothing to do with champagne, it's for kids, and kids alone.

If this is a to "hateful" message I totally understand if you choose not publish it.

Anyway, I love your blog.

Johnny, Stockholm, Sweden

Johnny said...

Oh but the way he did it made it almost acceptable...

Peter Liem said...

Hi Johnny,

"sabring has nothing to do with champagne, it's for kids, and kids alone."

I agree! Glad to hear from someone who shares my opinion. But yes, Josh's way is much more sophisticated, and he makes it look much cooler.

Masaaki said...

resseDear Peter,

Two cheers!
I cannot agree with you more.
Champagne does not need ”flashy and ostentatious thing" because champagne is good by nature if selected carefully.
Sabering appears to have something to do with a kind of "conspicuous consumption".

Your obedient reader.

Masaaki, Tokyo, Japan

Josh said...

Thanks for your comments. But I must respectfully disagree with a few things.

I am not a frat boy, a show off, a flashy sommelier or a kid, although I am a kid at heart in ways. It is a rare occasion when I saber a bottle of Champagne and when I have, it is usually alone, just myself and my family.

No, sabering doesn't have anything to do with Champagne, per se. And I can certainly see how it can be seen as flashy and ostentatious and that some people do it in a "show off" way. For me, I see it totally differently.

For one, Peter knows as well as anyone that wine is a passion of mine and something I enjoy and cherish on its own. I don't need anything flashy or showy to enjoy wine. In fact, my newsletter is all about wonderful, soulful wine which is inexpensive. Yes, I love Krug Clos de Mesnil, but I also love Vouvray Petillant. When I love something and am excited about it, as I do wine, I like to learn everything I can about it. Sabering Champagne, whatever your opinion of it, is part of the history and lore of Champagne, albeit only a tiny part. However, its there and I like to experience things so I've tried sabrage to experience it and have fun with it.

Second, wine is fun, or it should be. Its part of the everyday but it is also part of fun and celebration (it can be so many things, from the emotional to the intellectual). I enjoy Champagne on any occasion and enjoy many a bottle on no special night, just enjoying it for itself or with a great meal, as I know Peter does. However, Champagne is associated with fun and celebration particularly. There is something uplifting and empowering about it. Sabering a bottle of Champagne is fun and celebratory, even if just done on my own. Does it change the experience of the Champagne itself, no. But its fun. And just because I have fun opening the bottle doesn't mean I don't take what's inside the bottle very seriously. Maybe that part of the appeal is "fun" supports your claim that its just for kids, but if you see that as a bad thing then maybe you need to let a bit of the kid in you out more often!

There are many things that gourmets and oenophiles do that many other people would consider pretentious, flashy or ostentatious. Does that mean it really is so? My wife tracked down a real French manche a gigot as a Valentine's gift for me because I've wanted one but couldn't find one in the states. Do I really need it? Does it really add anything to the service of a leg of lamb? Does it make that lamb taste any better or make it that much easier to hold while slicing? Not really. But its a traditional French accoutrement to serving lamb and as a foodie I love it and the culture and history it embodies. Even if just serving myself and my family I love that I have it and I will feel a bit of the history of country French cooking whenever I use it. Its not about flash or being a snob.

Conspicuous consumption? Again, I'm not showing off. I do what I do in my own private life and with close friends. If Peter were here I'd saber a bottle with him not to impress him but in the hope that he'd have fun too (although maybe I'd be be wrong on that one). A "collector" might pull out a jeroboam of 1962 Romanée-Conti to impress his friends and enemies with his wealth and lavish spending. It would be a very different thing if I had the occasion and good fortune to open such a bottle with friends to sit and commune in that near religious experience. The two may seem the same to some observers, but it would be very different in fact.

I understand you were all generalizing in calling it "for kids", "flashy and ostentatious", "conspicuous consumption", etc. But I just wanted to point out that it doesn't have to be for everyone.

Thanks for listening to my rant!

Peter Liem said...

Hi Josh,

Sorry, I hope you didn't take any offense, as that was not my intent. I didn't mean to imply that you were showing off or that you were some kind of frat boy. I just think that there's a cult that has grown around the sabering of champagne that I find distasteful in general, and I was commenting on that. I was trying to point out that your method with the glass was much classier and more stylish than waving a sword around, and I thought your video was very cool. Of course sabering can be fun, and I don't think that sabering a bottle means that you don't take the wine seriously. But I will always prefer to open a bottle of champagne in the traditional manner.

Johnny said...


Well I also want to make clear that my wordings were actually targeting the "brats" and their following. Basically in Sweden (and I suspect at other places as well) sabring has become something done at summer time at flashy clubs with flashy bottles, and with flashy money. What's inside the bottle is of no or little concern to these people.

I actually agree with you when you say that Champagne is and should be a fun thing. Sabring in such a setting is absolutely not what I meant when i wrote: "for kids". I also agree that one shouldn't be to serious about this, and that it is important to keep a little bit of a kid inside one self.

Johnny, Stockholm, Sweden

Josh said...

Cheers Johnny!

I think we are on the same page.

Take care.

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