Thursday, December 24, 2009

Celebrate New Year's Eve with the Flourish of a Sword Trick

This year at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, you'll score a great big kiss and belt out "auld lang syne." As the song winds down, get your sword ready because you're going to open the champagne with it! Worst-case scenario, you injure yourself and others. You decide, is the stunt worth it?

Erik Liedholm, Wine Director for Washington's Seastar Restaurant & Raw Bar, tried it once upon a time and now has, at least, a great story. Mr. Liedholm recounts a time when he was the sommelier at a grand opening party for a cutting-edge new restaurant and "little did I know how 'cutting edge' this opening was to be." The who's who of the Seattle food scene was invited and "part of this grande fete was to have me saber off the top of a bottle of Champagne. I had plenty of experience whacking the tops off bottles of a regular (750ml) size but the crazy Food & Beverage Director who looked and acted like a cross between Schultz from Hogan’s Hero’s and Truman Capote, insisted I saber the top off of a Jeroboam (about 3 liters of wine). I was always told that one needs a large floor cradle when dispatching the tops of big bottles but he thought it would take away from the drama if I had one. He was right!!"

"After several unglamorous attempts hacking at the mammoth bottles 'sweet spot' I let out one last heave of the saber and then the Food & Beverage Director got his drama. Wine went everywhere, glass went everywhere. The crowd let out a big cheer and as I looked around, everyone had smiles…except the General Manager who looked at me with horror. The bottle had exploded in such a way that the broken half I was holding decided to engage itself into my thumb and was slowly removing it from my hand. It seems as though during my many failed attempts holding this freezing cold, giant bottle my hand became anesthetized."

"I did not realize that my entire hand and arm had become a bloody mess. I was off to the hospital and in no time, I was the talk of the ER wing at Virginia Mason hospital. All the docs and nurses wanted to lay their eyes on the fool who tried to open a bottle of Champagne with a sword. After twenty stitches and a hurt pride I was back to work that night!" (Thanks to Mr. Liedholm for sharing this story with us.)

So you've read the cautionary tale but still want to try it? You can use a special tool like the Laguiole Champagne Sabre or a solid and trusty knife. Wired Magazine has tips on everything from bottle temperature to the angle for holding the bottle.

Don't forget to prepare some lovely snacks to go with your champagne. Luckily, champagne goes with mostly everything from popcorn to rose petals. Paul Abercrombie's Organic, Shaken and Stirred: Hip Highballs, Modern Martinis, and Other Totally Green Cocktails has a delightfully delicate cocktail recipe mixing champagne and rose petals.

For cheese, try an easy to serve brie on crackers such as this one from President Cheese. It has an accessible taste that will appeal to most people and is easy to prepare. It'll be great with champagne!

And now some useful tips from Food Maven Ahmet A. about champagne:

Champagne is something to be enjoyed for more than special occasions, New Year's Eve or a wedding toast. It's practically the perfect drink: refreshing, delicate and complex. With so many to choose to from and with a such great range of prices where does one begin?

First, to be called champagne it has to be French. Nothing else will do. Yes, there are plenty of substitutes from Spain, Italy, New York and California. While those concoctions may appeal to some palates, champagne only comes guessed it, the Champagne region of France.

Second, it doesn't have to be expensive or vintage to be delicious. We may all think that Dom Perignon or La Grande Dame is the only way to enjoy this delightful drink, but those of us who live within driving distance of a Costco are in for real surprise. Costco's own Kirkland brand has added a champagne to its lineup of high quality products priced sensibly. Currently $19.95 gets one a fruity, slight yeasty dry champagne that competes with bubbly costing five to ten times the price.

Lastly, make sure the bottle is properly chilled (43 to 48 degrees F.). Don't just throw it into the freezer 30 minutes before serving. Once opened, there's no rush to finish, but don't even think about re-corking. At these prices you can afford to have a several bottles in your fridge waiting to be consumes for the best reason of all: for the taste. à votre santé!

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