When you’ve successfully stormed the villas of the aristocracy, it’s time to celebrate. Doing so in the grandest tradition, of course, means that you pluck a bottle of champagne from their wine cellar and, in a fit of celebratory pique, take the saber you earned as a member of Napoleon’s army to slice the top off the bottle so that you and your fellow soldiers can drink the bubbly liquid as it gushes from the bottle. It’s fun for the whole family (minus the members who were beheaded)!
Paradiso, a restaurant in Dallas’s Bishop Arts District, learned the hard way the risks of keeping a champagne sword in the house on Monday afternoon, though, when, according to police, a fired employee grabbed the one it uses to open sparkling wines and started brandishing it menacingly at his former employers. The Dallas Morning News reports that Vincent Briceno “eventually put the sword down and was taken into custody,” on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and criminal mischief. His bond was set at $10,500.
“Man arrested after waving sword around a restaurant” is not an unprecedented story around these parts, so we won’t attempt to parse the interpersonal conflict that led to the disgruntled employee’s arrest. Rather, we know you have a few questions, which we will attempt to answer expeditiously.
What’s with opening champagne with swords?
As alluded to a few paragraphs up, that is indeed a tradition stemming from after the French Revolution. As booze news site VinePair founder Joshua Malin wrote in Gizmodo in 2014, while the details of its origins are apocryphal, the broad strokes appear to be clear: “champagne sabering,” as the practice is known, was popularized by the young men of the revolution.
But, like, why do champagne sabering now?
It’s true that the age of Napoleon is over. (Spoiler: the British beat him.) The aristocracy enjoy their sparkling wines from elaborate caves at which they host presidential candidates, untroubled by the prospect of mounted Hussars storming their estates. The victories celebrated with champagne, frequently, are of a lower-stakes variety than those fought during sabering’s early days.
But drinking, smashing things, and doing dumb stuff are all traditions that extend beyond any particular time or place, and when you mix ’em all up, you’ve got a stew going. Accordingly, people mostly seem to enjoy cutting the tops off of champagne bottles because they can; because it takes something commonplace and adds a whiff of death to it; and because, if you’ve got a bottle of champagne and a sword, it’s inevitable that people are going to combine the two. Wine Spectator‘s advice columnist, “Dr. Vinny,” acknowledged that the practice is both wasteful and slightly more dangerous than using the ol’ corkscrew—”you’re going to lose some wine in the process, and the new edge will be sharp,” he wrote in 2017—but this is art, not science.
How do you do it?
Ehhhh. Here’s a how-to link, if you want to try it. But, honestly, you shouldn’t learn how to do things that involve swinging swords from the internet.
But it’s enough of a thing that, like, restaurants have champagne swords?
Boy howdy, do they! Houston restaurant a’Bouzy began offering sabering lessons last year, which, if you’re set on doing this, is a better way to learn than YouTube. At acclaimed sommelier Patrick Cappiello’s Rebelle, swords were the preferred way of opening the bottles. Taking dangerous risks for no reason isn’t just for amateurs at home, people.
Has anybody ever gotten hurt?
Boy howdy, have they! Our friends over at Eater have a pretty solid compilation of sabering mishaps, which span from “kinda funny, in a pathetic way” to “really funny, in a pathetic way.” Here’s just one exemplary instance:
The biggest risk isn’t usually loss of life or limb—although, you know, you could cut your thumb off that way—so much as a financial risk. We’re talking wasted champagne. Michelin-starred Napa Valley restaurant the French Laundry shared a video of their general manager squandering a $2,000 bottle of Billecart-Salmon brut last year. In all of these clips, you’ll see people waste a nice bottle in a publicly humiliating way.
Okay, but should I try it anyway?
I mean, it’s been two hundred years and people are still doing it, so nobody’s gonna stop you. Good luck—but put the sword safely away when you’re done.