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Champagne: Rated V For Violence

How quickly the world corrupts the most pure of ideals. If there ever was a beverage that could claim divine inspiration it might be Champagne, given to us by the ingenious monk Dom Perignon, who was famously said to mutter in a vision, "bubbles, must have more bubbles."

The chosen drink of the worlds elite, from gangsta rappers to the gorgeous of Hollywood, has come a long way from the monastic cells of Northwestern France. On the journey from one pacifist monk's laboratory to the brushed stainless countertops of LA's hippest clubs, it has gotten mixed up in some pretty violent stuff.

Take for example the practice of christening ships. I'm not sure who thought it would be a good idea to explode these poor bottles, which are made with so much care and time, against the hulls of unappreciative ocean liners as a public spectacle, but I guarantee you it wasn't suggested by a Franciscan friar.

Champagne has always been associated with celebration, seafaring and otherwise, but there's always something just slightly dangerous about it. Naturally, this has led to rampant enthusiasm from the one population that knows what to do with something explosive when it lands in their lap: men.

Even though it has long been a favorite drink among women for its delicate sensibility and aromas, champagne has always been a man's favorite beverage, if only because it is both a drink and a projectile. Opening Champagne has always been a sport for men and boys. One need look no farther for proof of this assertion than the ancient art of sabreing champagne bottles.

For those who may not be familiar with the practice, it involves dramatically removing the top of a champagne bottle with a sharp implement without spilling a drop (instructions below, for the overly excited).

The origins of this practice are shrouded in mystery. Perhaps it's easy to imagine the disappointment felt by some extremely macho continental army general who, faced with his first bottle of bubbly immediately bemoaned the lost opportunity to use his favorite corkscrew. Not content to simply appreciate the ability to open a wine without some metal tool, a task which frustrates many to this day, this gallant oaf decided there had got to be a more dramatic way to do it and took a swing with his longsword one day.

Or perhaps the practice has an even funnier beginning, at the hands of a sabre wielding, stumbling drunk whose friends had only unopened Champagne bottles to defend themselves with. A few drunken swipes, a parry or three, and the whole party froze in amazement as the bottles foamed freely.

Irrespective of its origins, the opening of champagne bottles with scimitars is now seeing a resurgence among wine drinkers. Whether this is because, finally, we are all taking wine a little less seriously, or because there are more beer drinking manly men switching to wine, I'm not sure.

What I am sure of is that no matter how macho it is, it's also damn fun. I really have always loved blowing things up and chopping at things with swords. Thank God, and Dom, for bubbly.

1. Make sure the bottle is extremely cold.
2. Remove the foil wrap encasing the top of the bottle so that the top of the bottle and at least an inch or two of the bottle's neck are free from paper or foil.
3. Remove the wire cage or at least unfasten it from below the lip of the bottle.
4. Turn the bottle in your hands until you locate the vertical seam running from the base to the lip of the bottle.
5. Note where this seam hits the lip of the bottle (the part that juts out from the neck) -- this is your target.
6. Take a sharp metal implement of your choice, as bad-ass as you wanna be, and hold the blade at about a 20 degree angle from the bottle neck (as if you were whittling a stick).
7. Pointing the bottle away from any person (the top will fly for some ways) scrape your sword up the neck with some force, impacting the place where the seam meets the lip of the bottle.

When done successfully, the entire top of the bottle will shear straight off, and the force of the gas from the Champagne will carry away any tiny glass fragments, leaving you to pour the wine. Be aware though that the top of the bottle will be VERY sharp.

After doing this a few times with a sword or a butter knife, more intrepid and suave folks like me prefer to do this with the base of a (sturdy) champagne flute.

In case someone loses an eye, just remember that I didn't recommend doing this, I just wanted to tell you how.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud