There is always something new to learn. Always. One of the things I love most about champagne is that with somewhere in the vicinity of 2000 independent growers, I will probably in my lifetime never taste them all. And with each new one I taste, I learn something new, be it about the village it comes from, the particular soil in that plot, the weather that year, or that particular wine makers methods that set him or her apart from the others.
However, there is one thing about champagne that I pretty much thought I had down pat. One aspect that I will happily call myself an expert on, with no complex. And that is in The Art of Sabrage. Being an official chevalier-sabreur with the Confrerie du Sabre d’Or since 2001, and not only having practiced the art, but taught countless other people how to achieve sabrage perfection for the best part of 20 years, I truly thought there was little I didn’t know about the technique.
How wrong I was! I have recently found out in the last month that I have been missing out on one very important step in the whole lead up to the act. One such important step that it virtually guarantees a clean cut if all the other steps are followed correctly? How could I have not known this?
This crucial step is the turn the bottle upside down, with the neck in ice for about 10 mins before sabring the bottle. It actually makes complete sense when I think about it, because the bottle necks are submerged into a freezing solution before the disgorgement process so that the sediment is expelled with little spillage.
It first came to my attention during the Brisbane French Festival this year when I was conducting champagne master classes with Canard-Duchêne brand ambassador Antoine Huray. Four lucky people from each group where chosen to be initiated into the Art of Sabrage by both Antoine and myself. The bottles weren’t quite cold enough for the first class, and a couple of the people had difficulty with the sabrage – although all succeeded in the end and there were no disasters. Antoine said to me at the end of the class that we had to make sure the bottles where ‘neck in’ the ice before the next class. I wasn’t so sure, and I have to admit I was dreading a glass shattering disaster, but who was I to argue – it was his champagne, and he is the Brand Ambassador!
The sabrage at the next class went off without a hitch, and Antoine was very happy with the result. I was a bit confused. Why would this work? Why hadn’t I seen anyone do this before? Why…..
Then life and truffle season got in the way and I didn’t give it another thought until this morning when I stumbled across what would have to be the best sabrage instructional video I have ever seen. It was by a fellow who I’d never heard of, by the name of Alton Brown, and it had over one million views. In fact, his Youtube channel has over 200,000 subscribers. It turns out that Alton Brown is an American TV personality and celebrity chef, which may account for why I have never heard of him, since I live in Australia, don’t subscribe to cable TV and watch very little television. What Alton Brown is not (at least as far as Wikipedia is concerned) is an expert on anything on champagne.
Being Sunday morning, and sitting quietly as I drank my morning cup of tea, I decided to click on the video, and I am so glad I did. It is gold. Not only is it very funny, but he also lists one of the steps as turning the bottle upside down with the neck in ice! Snap!
I won’t mention anything else he talks about – but I think Alton and I would get along very nicely at a party!
Here is the video for you to enjoy – it’s only 4 mins long, but it will make your day.
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Now I have some serious research to conduct today and must go and set up my own ice bucket challenge!