Of Sabers and Pairings: The Eclectic Wine Scene of Portland, Oregon
By Olenka Burgess
Posted in The Field Guide to Drinking in America, on May 24, 2016
At the recent launch party for Matt Wagner’s Tall Trees of Paris at Gigantic Brewing (a great success, by the way!) we were honored by not one but TWO of Portland’s premier champagne sabreurs: Michael Ecker and Christopher Graham. Champagne sabering, or sabrage, is a delightfully ostentatious technique for opening a bottle of champagne with—you guessed it—a saber! Sabering dates back to Napoleonic times, but artisans like Michael and Christopher are carrying on the legacy with panache. You can see a snippet of Michael in action here.
Michael embarked on the path to mastery at his wedding, where an official champagne saber was bestowed upon him. “It dawned on me that I would never open a bottle of champagne the cham-lame way ever again,” he said. Michael was kind enough to share his top five secrets for learning the art of the saber:
- Once the cage is off, consider the bottle a loaded gun. Don't point it at anyone!
- Start your night with the finest champagnes so as not to dishonor your blade.
- End your night with whatever bottles you have lying around... no need to be a snob!
- Sabering is a communal event. If you're sabering alone, you should probably look into sobering alone.
- An extravagant robe helps the kids understand that sabering is a timeless and sacred event.
Christopher Graham was also an excellent guide to the art of sabering (as well as the art of finding stylish eco-friendly shoes in Portland). He revealed that you don’t actually need a saber to saber a bottle of champagne—the sharpness of the object doesn’t matter; it’s the follow-through that counts. To demonstrate the flexibility of the technique, here’s a video of rapper Vince Staples and Michael Voltaggio, owner and chef at Ink in Los Angeles, sabering champagne with a variety of household objects—please don’t try this at home:
Christopher is also the right-hand man and snack guru at Pairings, an innovative wine bar in Portland owned by Jeffrey Weissler. Jeffrey is passionate about finding the best wine grown with the highest regard for the environment, so Pairings specializes in minimally filtered wines made without added yeast and with grapes grown biodynamically or organically. Jeffrey also advocates for an intuitive, approachable language around wine appreciation to counter the pretension of “wine geek speak” and take the mystery out of wine pairings.
Jeffrey put his philosophy into action by describing his top three wine selections for June:
Melaric Globules Roses
playful, unusual, and passionate
This beautiful rosé uses “méthode ancestrale,” an ancient carbonation technique that predates champagne by about five hundred years.
exotic, hypnotic, and enticing
This Viognier comes from Southern Oregon engineer-turned-winemaker Corey Schuster… plus, you know, jackalopes.
Casa Smith Cinghiale
engaging, spicy, and a bit of a lush
This Sangiovese wine comes from Charles Smith’s newest label, which focuses on sustainably produced Italian varietals.
Jeffrey uses his personality-based descriptions to pair wines not only to food but to music, astrological signs, and Game of Thrones characters. If you’re in Portland, make sure to check out the upcoming events and classes at Pairings so that you too can learn to pair the perfect wine to just about anything! In fact, we will be hosting an event there very soon in which Jeffrey will pair wines to art from our Tall Trees books! We don’t have an exact date yet, but please keep an eye on our upcoming events page for details. In the meantime, you can read up on the history of wine in America here.