I recently attended a garden party in a downtown Toronto courtyard to toast the relaunch of The Wine Establishment’s new showroom and cellar design centre — the venerable outfit has been the leading wine accessories and wine cellar purveyors in Canada for two decades. Partnering with Veuve Clicquot/Krug, The Wine Establishment treated guests to a swish event complete with a welcome toast featuring the sabering of a magnum of Krug Grande Cuveé. This was followed by non-stop toasting with Krug and Veuve, poured from bottles opened with champagne sabres (a cavalry sword with a curved edge) flown in from France.
Laird Kay is the Director of Architectural Services at The Wine Establishment, and he designs and builds complete wine environments for collectors with 500 to 35,000 prized bottles. As we stood under a gorgeously green plane tree, holding Riedel’s brand new toasting flutes filled with sparkly Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label, Kay outlined the purpose behind his multifaceted company. "We’re trying to demystify the whole wine experience,” he explains.
To that end, the staff offers up detailed information without being patronizing — which is more difficult than it sounds! As Kay says, “It can be something as simple as telling people to sit on their reds [in a climate-controlled environment] for a few years if they want to enjoy them even more.” One of the latest wine trends involves bringing the cellar out of the basement and putting it on show. “We’re building more wine cellars adjacent to dining and living rooms — as a backdrop to entertaining spaces,” he explains.
I continued to wander the grassy grounds, chatting with party-goers while munching on tasty bites such as Parmesan crisps topped with goat cheese (recipe below). The event was catered by chef Paul Boehmer of the new Ossington restaurant, Böhmer. As I was grazing, Kay informed me I was next up for sabering. I had noticed the fun going on as other guests practiced the age-old tradition of using a sabre to pop the glass top off of a champagne bottle, and it looked easy enough to do. (Apparently, this is how Napoleon did it in the field.)
And so, I gracefully stepped up to the plate to learn how to sabre my own bottle of champagne, under the tutelage of Marcel Bregstein of the Toronto Hunt. And this is what happened:
1. I swear, I was doing everything he told me to do. But the bottle seemed to be made of superhuman glass. It would not break. I could show you fifty photos that look just like this one.
2. Most people got it in one or two tries. I think I was up to twenty before the top finally burst off. By that time, a sizable crowd had gathered. (Most of them were on the grass facing me. So much worse than it looks here.)
3. A roar of cheers and high fives erupted all around. Still, I made a silent pledge to start working on my upper body strength.
4. Slightly humiliating? Yes. But to the victor goes the spoils. I had some Veuve Clicquot to drink.
See more champagne-based cocktail recipes.
Grana Padano Parmesan, finely grated (approximately 2" in diameter and 1/8" thick, or desired size)
300 mL whipping cream (35%)
Goat cheese, crumbled
Desired seasonings (herbs, shallots, salt, pepper)
Step 1: Fill a silicone baking sheet with small heaps of finely grated Grano Padano Parmesan.
Step 2: Press each heap down with your fingers to flatten it slightly.
Step 3: Bake at 350°F until golden brown and bubbling (approximately 5 minutes, but watch closely). Remove from oven and let cool completely.
Goat Cheese Mousse
Step 1: Whip cream into soft peaks.
Step 2: Fold into crumbled goat cheese. Add desired seasonings to taste.
Step 3: Pipe onto cooled Parmesan crisps and serve.