Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “Champagne! In victory one deserves it. In defeat one needs it.” It was his habit to haul wagon loads of Champagne with him to all his battles. So, win or lose a glass of champagne would be available to top off a long hard day of trying to conquer the world.
After a victory, Napoleon’s officers would pop open champagne for their troops. At some point, Napoleon’s cavalry started opening the bottles with their sabers and Voila! “Sabrage” was invented.
In those days, raw courage, speed, and cold hard steel could still win battles. Guns of the day were still front loading. The interval between shots lasted, sometimes, up to a minute. The guns weren’t very accurate either. That’s why the infantry would line up shoulder to shoulder and shoot bunched together, in order to increase their chances of hitting something. Into this fray, mounted cavalry could still change the course of battle. Napoleon wrote, “Cavalry is useful before, during and after a battle.” Napoleon’s Calvary units were courageous, and fast. It is said that under Napoleon, mounted cavalry enjoyed its finest hour.
Napoleon’s cavalry units: Cuirassiers, Dragoons, Hussars, and Lancers all glittered with gold, medals, braids topped off by very tall plumed hats. They were the pride of the French army. They must have been an intimidating sight to an opposing army. Among these gloriously attired cavalry units, the Hussars were the eyes and egos of the Napoleonic army. They served as scouts and vanguards. They had their own code of reckless courage bordering on a death wish. A Napoleonic general once said of them, “Any of them alive at 30 are ‘Blackguards’.”
It took a lot of guts for the cavalry to rush headlong into a battalion with guns aimed at you while riding atop a very large moving target. If a bullet didn’t kill you, falling from a fast moving horse might certainly do the trick. It is said that the most testosterone driven arm of the cavalry, the Hussars, celebrated victory by opening champagne bottles with their sabers. And why not? In fact, they would knock the top of the bottle off, essentially beheading the bottle. (In those days, the French were fond of beheading things.)
Another popular version of the origin of “Sabrage” involves the Widow Clicquot (of Veuve Clicquot fame). It appears she enjoyed entertaining the handsome mounted officers with champagne who would gloriously draw their sabers and decapitate their bottles like so many anti-revolutionary traitors.
In either case, I’m sure Napoleon was bummed he did not have any champagne after his loss at Waterloo. Some say the reason he lost was that since he did not have time to pick-up any champagne on his way to the battle, he had to fight on Belgian beer alone. Pass the saber please. I’m ready for some champagne. Cheers!
Certified Sommelier, General Manager, President Liane was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. She graduated from the Kamehameha Schools in 1977, and worked in the bookkeeping department of Villa Roma, a women’s retail clothing store owned by her mother Audrey Fu, before flying off to college in New York City. She was a physics major at New York University (NYU). In her first semester, she attended a concert that was interpreted for the deaf. She became fascinated by the idea of communication through movement which for her was kind of like hula on steroids.