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Mar 6, 2008 05:33 PM

Capsules and Customs

My Fellow Hounds,
This is a particularly appropriate forum in which to pose questions regarding lore and legend or truth and tradition. To this palette of experienced individuals I pose a simple question; why is the foil capsule on a wine bottle cut when the bottle is poured? Why would it not merely be entirely removed? Might complete removal appear boorish or uncultured?
Thank you,

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  1. Well I would say: 1) The foil doesn't always remove smoothly

    2) It adds a bit of class to the bottle, otherwise you're going to have some stick stuff on the neck rather than the foil with it's embossing, etc.
    3) Why remove it in the first place ?

      1. Quoting poster hotoynoodle from the topic linked by RicRios:

        "the reason for not completely removing the foil is that it helps catch drips, which is a restaurant thing. most people at home don't care. but why people seem to think opening a wine bottle is hard has always mystified me. a simple waiter's corkscrew will cut the foil and open the bottle in about 20 seconds."

        I also find that some capsules add an attractive element to the 'look' of the bottle, especially when they are adorned with graphics that help complete the 'package'. And..... I don't know exactly why, but I find that some wine bottles look 'naked' with the capsule removed.

        Of course, it's your bottle of wine, so do as you please.

        12 Replies
        1. re: Midlife

          Part of the idea of it is to leave the bottle as intact as possible, as a sign of respect for the wine (it should be handled as delicately as possible) and also to make a better presentation for the customer. this is old school french style.

          1. re: pierrot

            "it should be handled as delicately as possible ... this is old school french style"

            Well, the sabre is also French style...

            1. re: RicRios

              sometimes i think it may be less dangerous than the flying cork.

                1. re: RicRios

                  The saber/sabre method of opening a wine bottle is not French in origin. It was first used by the Cossacks, who rode on horseback and didn't have time to dismount and open the bottle in the traditional way.

                  1. re: maria lorraine


                    "This technique became popular in France when the army of Napoleon visited many of the aristocrat domains.
                    There are many stories about this tradition. One of the more spirited tales is that of Madame Clicquot who had inherited her husband’s small Champagne house at the age of 27. She used to entertain Napoleon's officers in her vineyard and as they rode off in the early morning with their complimentary bottle of Champagne, they would open it with their saber to impress the rich young widow."


                    1. re: RicRios

                      Thou protesteth incorrectly! This is a classic wine history test question.

                      Sabering pre-dated the Napoleon era, and even Napoleon's birth by at least 70 years.

                      Sabering may have become *popular* in France during Napoleon, but it was a method employed long before that by the Cossacks, who had spread from the Ottoman Empire into western Europe by the 1650s.

                      Champagne became popular shorly thereafter, during the reign of Louis XIV, from the 1660s to 1715, when the Cossacks were already established in Europe and Russia.

                      The Cossacks were no tame bunch. They were a wild and fierce military, known for cruelty, debauchery, drunken excess, and sabering bottles of bubbly when they didn't want to dismount their horses to drink. And the Cossacks sabered *everything*: other horses, people, small animals. And all without dismounting.

                      Napoleon wasn't even born until 1769, more than 100 years after the Cossacks were in residence, and 70 years after Champagne had become popular. He probably first observed sabering while in military school in the Champagne region, or during his military campaigns throughout Europe. By the time Napoleon unsuccessfully invaded Russia 1812, and fought against the Cossacks there, sabering had been around a long time.

                      Madame Clicquot didn't come onto the Champagne scene till 1804. She proved herself to be a brilliant marketer, growing her deceased husband's winery from a small insignificant one into a thriving international business. She observed there was great demand for Champagne in Russia, and so in 1814 exported her bubbly to Russia. Additionally, she brought her bubbly to the kings and queens of Europe, ensuring a demand for her brand and financial success for her company.

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        While I'm enjoying the "front porch discussion" on this topic, & ineed that's why it's here and not merely some encyclopedia. My follow up regards the use of a blade to open the bottle. Having never tried it I can't help but wonder about shattering the bottle, glass fragments and the like. Perhaps the Cossacks didn't mind a little internal bleeding?

                        1. re: Phood

                          With Champagne, that doesn't happen.

                          1. re: Phood

                            Sabering is far easier than it seems, but still requires a real respect for safety. There's a proper method, and when you employ it, the top lip of the bottle severs cleanly and completely, along with the cork. In fact, you never cut the bottle per se; the lip of the bottle separates itself from the rest of the bottle.

                            Here's a recap of the method from another thread:

                            "You don't just slide the saber along the seam of the bottle just below the lip -- you tease the saber up and down the seam a lot, maybe twenty strokes, creating friction. This increases the pressure in the bottle...[and remember there is already 7-8 atmospheres of pressure inside the bottle]...and then with one bold quick stroke you run the saber along the seam and then whack the lip of the bottle off. The lip and cork together will separate cleanly, and with a fairly smooth edge. Essentially, the lip of the bottle lifts itself off because of the increased pressure you created with the sabre seam motion, and you just whack the lip to get it flying.

                            "It's actually pretty easy...but I would practice on some cheapies [or even beer bottles, says one bubbly winemaker]...outside. I use the back side of the saber, not the blade, to hit the lip of the bottle. The back side's a little thicker. A heavy-duty chef's knife works too. Be safe."

                            P.S.: In regards to internal bleeding, or bleeding in general: I'm sure the Cossacks caused a great deal of it in others, and probably suffered it themselves but perhaps not from sabering bubbly.

                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              I've seen and done a fair bit of sabrage, its not necessary to run the edge up and down the bottle, and its not necessary to 'whack' it.

                              The top flies off with surprisingly little encouragement. A sabre looks very impressive but any edge will do; I've done it using the base of a Champagne glass.

                              1. re: Gussie Finknottle

                                I wouldn't do it any other way. Safety first. I've been taught sabrage by two of the best known bubbly-makers in the world, and if that's the way they do it knowing the physics of the bottle and its contents, that's the way I'm doing it.

              1. Whew,

                I'm glad that I read closely, as I assumed that you wanted to bring a bottle w/o a capsule THROUGH Customs (US).

                I concur with the element of aesthetics, with regards to leaving the capsule. Still, I know a lot of servers, usually wine bars and similar, who twist the capsule and pull it off. In most cases, it releases, expands a bit, and slides off. Others cut it from below to the top and peel it off. I leave mine on - out of tradition.


                1. Why is the top cut off rather than completely removed. Assuming you're talking about in restaurant service, because that's the custom, because it makes the bottle look more attractive, because often capsules have images or text.

                  I do not buy in anyway that 'is catches drips'.

                  At home I twist off the entire capsule when I can. If it won't come off, then it is easier and quicker to cut off the top and leave the rest, than to cut and peel off the entire capsule.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Gussie Finknottle

                    It does NOT catch drips.

                    The ORIGINAL reason for the (then) lead capsules was that it kept rats and mice from eating away at the cork. When the capsules will still made up lead, I would remove the entire capsule and wipe the neck of the bottle with a clean, damp cloth.

                    Today, the capsules are NOT made of lead,and I trim off the capsule right below the lip of the bottle. For me, they are part of the esthetic, the entire
                    package" so to speak. I wouldn't remove the label from a bottle of wine before or during service -- and when serving from a decanter, I always have the bottle itself close at hand -- why remove the capsule?


                    1. re: zin1953

                      Thank you. I was going to address the rodent issue -- the reason for the lead capsule in the first place -- but you already have.

                      The capsule is now part of the bottle esthetic, and provides visual balance
                      between the upper and lower portions of the bottle.

                      1. re: zin1953

                        "When the capsules will still made up lead, I would remove the entire capsule and wipe the neck of the bottle with a clean, damp cloth." And then pour it into a lead-crystal decanter... Sorry, I could not resist. I do not wish to even talk about lead-crystal. It's a joke folks. Nothing to see. Move along.

                        Jason, I'm with you on this one too. Heck, if I'm bringing a crated large-bottle to a party, I keep the bottle in the crate, until it's time to decant, or whatever. As you state, "it's part of the entire package."