How to Make a Better Toast (and Saber Sparkling Wine With a Spoon!)

4 tips for making a high-impact impression this holiday season
Dec 13, 2012

If you were to believe everything you see in romantic comedies, you’d know that a toast is a time of extreme drama. For a screenwriter, that familiar scene—glasses raised, all eyes on the protagonist—is an easy opportunity for character and plot development: poignant success or comically bad catastrophe.

One of the funny side effects of being around wine people is that you end up hearing—and making—many toasts. Something about being in a group with glasses in hand means that, at some point, conversation will be shushed, a speech given and glasses clinked. So for this holiday season, when toasting opportunities abound, I thought it would be timely to ask some wine folks for tips on making these impromptu moments seem effortless. Share your own tip, or a particularly memorable toast, in the comments section below.

The Wine
The easiest thing to resolve is the wine. There’s no real wrong choice—sparkling, sweet or still—as long as you have enough. From a regular 750ml bottle, you can get 10 two-ounce mini-pours, or four to five full-size pours. Sommelier Jesse Rodriguez, who has witnessed many a toast at the Addison in San Diego, which has a Wine Spectator Grand Award for its wine list, said special occasions deserve large-format bottles, a popular approach these days. For his wedding in August, he poured 3-liter bottles of Chartogne-Taillet Brut NV. “Bigger is definitely better,” he said.

The Speech
The general consensus: Go witty or poignant but leave sarcasm and a stand-up routine at home. Stay short, said Rita Jammet, owner of La Caravelle Champagne: “People’s patience is not too long—they want to drink the wine!”

Wine people in particular seem to love puns and wine-related turns of phrases that might seem a little cheesy on paper, but in practice, can come off well. Jammet, who used to own New York’s La Caravelle restaurant, offered up one of the most memorable toasts she has witnessed. “We were catering a dinner in the Chanel boutique [for the launch of a jewelry line]. Our chef prepared a tasting menu for a vertical of Cristal. The then-chairman of Chanel, Arie Kopelman, gets up and takes a glass of Champagne and said, ‘This is a vertical tasting. I’m not sure why they call it a vertical tasting, but if you’re still vertical at the end, I would love to show you more of our jewelry.’”

The Timing
Many people leave toasts for only the most rarified moments, but Etienne Hugel, 12th generation of the Hugel wine family in Alsace, recommends more toasts, not fewer. Hugel travels six months out of the year to promote his wine and has taken to carrying plastic GoVino glasses in his bag. “Bring the wine outside the white-tablecloth environment,” he said. “Sometimes bringing wine out of formality can be just as much fun.”

Taking It Up a Notch
If you really want to get high-impact with a toast, there’s nothing like sabering a bottle of Champagne. Let’s get this out of the way first: Sabering—the practice of lopping open a sparkling wine bottle with a sword—is absurd. Sparkling wine comes ready-made with a pop-top opener, no equipment needed. There could be no way, my younger self thought, that real wine people could be into this bonkers display.

But after bearing witness to many a party featuring semi-ironic sabering (when the saberer knows it’s silly and still does it, with enthusiasm), the use of a large, sharp implement really does seem to, as Jammet said, “take the celebration level one notch up.”

For those curious about how it works, below, we have a short video featuring sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier of Rouge Tomate restaurant in New York demonstrating a neat party trick: sabering sparkling wine with a spoon. Disclaimer: Despite the absence of a sword, this is still a dangerous endeavor and the video is not meant to encourage you to do this, but for entertainment purposes only.

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