Champagne has a nearly universal appeal. Perhaps no other product enjoys such a sterling reputation for outstanding quality. It is also the one wine that may be appropriately served any time of day, with any meal and with just about any type of food.
It’s unlikely that when Dom Pierre Pérignon discovered the process of making Champagne he had any idea his sparkling wine would spawn a fabulous array of sensational cocktails. Champagne-based drinks are synonymous with celebrations and special occasions. So exceptional are these cocktails that they have the capacity of turning any night into something genuinely memorable.
The new breed of Champagne libations is among the latest trends sweeping the country. These cocktails are light, effervescent and exceptionally delicious. With the advent of the reusable bottle-stopper that keeps Champagne carbonated overnight, you can pour Champagne by the glass without being concerned that the unused portion will go flat and be wasted.
Champagne attains its famous spritz through a process called méthode champenoise. Before bottling, sugar and yeast are added, which initiates a secondary fermentation in the bottle. The process raises the wine’s alcohol content and imbues the Champagne with effervescence. Secondary fermentation takes about a month, after which the champagne is matured in cellars up to three years. The final stage involves the removal of sediment and the bottle being recorked.
Champagnes are principally produced in three versions. Blanc de Blanc Champagnes are made entirely from Chardonnay grapes. A Blanc de Noir Champagne is made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and a Rosé Champagne is produced from any of these varietals with its alluring tint obtained from the juice being in contact with the grape skins.
Like all wines, the qualities, characteristics and personalities of Champagnes and sparkling wines differ greatly. It only stands to reason that choosing the most appropriate Champagne or sparkling wine for use in a particular cocktail is a significant success factor. The better the sparkler, the better the cocktail.
The original recipe for the Champagne Cocktail can be found in Professor Jerry Thomas’ seminal work, “The Bon Vivant’s Companion or How to Mix Drinks.” Published in 1862, the guide cites the formula to be “one-half teaspoon of sugar, one or two dashes of bitters and one piece of lemon peel.” It further instructs that the ingredients were to be poured into a tumbler one-third full of broken ice, the balance filled with wine. “Shake well and serve. Use one bottle of Champagne to every six large glasses.”
For nearly a century and a half, the cocktail has remained relatively unchanged. The contemporary version of the drink is made directly into a Champagne flute, tulip glass or saucer. Typically, a sugar cube is placed into the glass and saturated with one or two dashes of Angostura bitters, after which cold Champagne is added slowly. Anticipate that the Champagne will create an immediate froth when it comes into contact with the sugar, thus the need to pour the wine slowly. The finishing touch is twisting a lemon rind such that its essential oils are expressed in the direction of the glass. The spiraled lemon twist then is dropped into the cocktail and served.
The venerable Champagne Cocktail was named one of the 10 best drinks by Esquire Magazine in 1934. One famous variation on the drink originated at London Savoy Hotel in the 1920s. The Savoy Champagne Cocktail was made with an Angostura bitters saturated sugar cube, equal parts of Grand Marnier and V.S. cognac, filled with chilled Champagne and garnished with an orange twist.
In addition to the category’s namesake and founder, there are other classic and absolutely essential Champagne cocktails that must be sipped and savored to be fully appreciated. To read more about the top eight Champagne cocktails, click here.