Food Festivals

Virginia Philip Talks Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival and How to Saber a Champagne Bottle Without Hurting Yourself

Palm Beach entrepreneur Virginia Philip is an undisputed rockstar in the wine world. It only makes sense that she'd play a part in this weekend's Palm Beach Food and Wine Festival, where she'll lend her skills to three different festival events.

Philip was but the tenth woman in the world to earn the hard-to-come-by title of Master Sommelier. Since then, that number has doubled, but it remains painfully low.

"Ten years ago, it was more of a male dominated world, and you definitely see more women now," Philip said. She said time will tell if those female professionals will be able to "hang in there for the long haul" given that the career's demands and working hours often conflict with raising a family.

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Where Philip is concerned, the wine industry has kept her plenty busy. Her talents are in demand both locally and around the world. She's even appeared on national outlets like "The Today Show" and on the Food Network.

Her involvement with the festival kicks off on Saturday afternoon, when she'll host "Corks & Champagne," a wine and champagne tasting at Virginia Philip Wine Shop & Academy, her nearly 1,800-square-foot shop in Palm Beach.

"I requested to work with Norman (Van Aken) for the event," Philip said.

Chef Van Aken will prepare a variety of appetizers and give a food demo while sharing recipes. Philip, who routinely hosts educational tasting events at her store, will offer insights as to why each wine was chosen to complement the food.

Later on in the day, she'll steer the drink choices at a sold-out six-course dinner "An Evening With Le Cirque - A Tribute to Sirio." That dinner will be hosted at the Breakers, where Philip has held the master sommelier post since 2000. She also works as a consultant for Stephane's in Boca Raton and has a few other projects in the works.

Most visually striking will be Philip's presence at the festival's grand tasting on Tuesday night at 150 Worth. There, she'll saber the champagne, a crowd-pleasing act that only looks slightly more dangerous/difficult than it actually is.

"You have to make sure you have the right equipment," Philip said. Though expensive, an actual champagne saber -- versus, say, a standard kitchen knife -- will give you the best chance of pulling off the stunt without sending shards of glass flying into the crowd.

The other key piece of advice to consider when sabering champagne? Don't try to substitute other bubbles.

"You want there to be six atmospheres of pressure," Philip said.

In layman's terms: Use actual champagne or sparkling wine. Prosecco won't cut it in this case, because it's only got four atmospheres of pressure. (An atmosphere is a unit of measure, with "one atmosphere" equal to 14.7 pounds of pressure per square inch.)

"You need that pressure to shoot the capsule off," Philip said.

Watch Philip in action at the sixth annual Grand Tasting from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets are $125. Order yours -- or check out the festival's other events -- at

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Tricia Woolfenden