Robb Report Vices

Bubbles and Blades

Patrick Cappiello is not your typical, reserved sommelier; he prefers faded T-shirts and jeans to a suit and tie. Despite such a relaxed disposition, the 41-year-old wine director has taken a calculated approach in the development of one of New York City’s finest wine programs, and the fruits of his labor are on display at Pearl & Ash, his year-old establishment in Lower Manhattan. “The approach here is to provide a program with great value and selections of hard-to-find producers, older wines, and sought-after stuff,” he says, “but to put it in a casual, fun venue with great music. We are trying to provide the best value in the city, and I think we do.”

Of equal importance to Cappiello is delivering copious amounts of fun, and he does so with a skull-emblazoned saber. He may be famous for creating some of Manhattan’s most respected wine lists, but he’s also legendary for sabering bottles of Champagne. “I will probably saber at least a few bottles tonight,” he says, falling into a booth with a boyish grin. Cappiello learned the art of opening a bottle with a blade back when he worked at Veritas in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, and he carried the tradition to Pearl & Ash. When the restaurant hosted a party in conjunction with a New York Times review this spring, Cappiello brought out a jeroboam of Pierre Peters, stood on the bar, gave a speech, and dramatically opened the bottle with his trusty sword. “If you look at the ceiling closely, you can still see the spray from that bottle,” he says.

If you’re yearning to ring in the new year with some Champagne and a sword, Cappiello’s first piece of advice centers on the wine itself. “It works because of the pressure,” he explains. “The glass cracks and then the pressure pushes [the top of the bottle] off nicely. Light sparkling wines don’t do well; the bubblier, the better.”

Here, Cappiello shares a few additional tips to sabering like a boss:

  • Make sure the Champagne is really cold; the warmer it is the more you’ll lose.
  • Remove the foil entirely and take off the cage. But be careful after that; treat the bottle like it’s a live gun.
  • Place a heavy knife at a 45-degree angle, with the edge resting on the bottle.
  • Slide the blade up the seam along the neck and make contact on the glass lip.
  • When you hit the lip, you want to hit it hard, but not too hard. Make sure your stroke creates a good, solid, clean hit. The pressure inside will do the rest. Coming at it like you’re attacking the bottle is a bad idea.
  • As for the destruction and/or mess that inevitably comes from employing such a tactic at home, Cappiello acknowledges that it just comes with the territory. “There’s always a risk,” he says. “You just have to embrace the danger.”