If there is one day a year where it is appropriate to share cheers with lots of bubbly beverages, it is New Year’s Eve.

Popping corks and toasting to the new year has been a tradition for centuries, with some accounts of celebratory sips dating back to Julius Caesar. Back then, of course, the beverage of choice was not the vintage champagne we have come to adore.

Champagne is said to be one of civilization’s great examples of a flaw evolving into a feature. According to wine writer Wayne Curtis, it all started when French wine was bottled before being fully fermented.

“The yeast got busy, and the wine got fizzy,” he said.

Back then, the fizz was assumed to mask poor-quality wine, but after a century or so of fine-tuning, producers perfected the making of crisp, delicate champagnes.

“Royalty clamored for it, followed by nobility, followed by the rising merchant class that thought of itself as both royal and noble,” Curtis said. “Think aspirational drinking.”

Champagne’s rich history

Champagne has a rich history that dates back to the 16th century when European aristocrats popped bottles at their royal parties. It was most definitely an elite beverage, the drink of choice for Louis XIV. By 1800, it was common across Europe to stay awake until midnight, when church bells rang and firearms exploded with celebratory sound. In the late 1800s, producers started to market champagne as a drink for more common folk to celebrate special occasions. What better opportunity to pull out all the stops and flaunt those aspirations than New Year’s Eve?

Strictly speaking, champagne is a sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region of northeastern France. Bubbly wine from any other region is considered sparkling wine, not champagne. While many people use the term “champagne” generically for any sparkling wine, the French have maintained their legal right to call their wines champagne for more than a century. The Treaty of Madrid, signed in 1891, established this rule, and the Treaty of Versailles reaffirmed it.

What’s better than champagne? Not much, in my opinion, but to stretch the bottles (and your budget) further, consider making champagne cocktails. There is no pressure to pop the cork on a vintage Dom Perignon, for there are many budget-friendly sparkling wines from around the world that won’t be offended when paired with a bitter liqueur or an aged cognac.

Add a festive air to your New Year’s Eve celebration, or any celebration for that matter — pop the cork and share one of these classic cocktails. The recipes call for champagne, but feel free to offer a less-expensive prosecco, cava or blancs de noir.

Classic Champagne Cocktail

Makes 1 cocktail

One of the oldest cocktails, dating back to the 1800s, the champagne cocktail consists of a sugar cube drenched in aromatic bitters, then dropped into a champagne flute and topped with champagne.

1 sugar cube

A few dashes Angostura bitters

Champagne

Lemon or orange twist, for garnish

Soak the sugar cube in Angostura bitters and drop into a champagne flute. Top with champagne or a sparkling wine. Garnish with a lemon or orange twist.

French 75

Makes 1 cocktail

Classically, mixologists around the world make this fizzy, lemony drink with gin, but New Orleans bartenders opt for cognac. The preference is all yours.

Ice

2 ounces gin or VSOP cognac

¾ ounce simple syrup

¾ ounce fresh lemon juice

2 ounces champagne

Lemon twist, for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the gin or cognac, simple syrup and lemon juice and shake well. Strain into a martini glass or champagne flute, top with sparkling wine and serve with lemon twist.

Aperol Spritz

Makes 1 cocktail

The “Spritz” is the signature drink of sparkling Italian prosecco and Aperol, a bittersweet orange-flavored aperitif made in Italy using a secret blend of herbs and roots. The liqueur was developed in 1912, and this cocktail came about in the 1950s. The brilliant orange drink has been a favorite dinner party aperitif ever since and pairs perfectly with whatever is on the table, especially Italian fare.

2 ounces prosecco

2 ounces Aperol

Splash soda water

Orange slice

Fill a wine glass with ice. Combine prosecco and Aperol in equal parts. Add a dash of soda and garnish with an orange slice.

Black Velvet

Makes 1 cocktail

This cocktail was first created by the bartender of Brooks’s Club in London in 1861, to mourn the death of Prince Albert, who was Queen Victoria’s prince consort. Guinness Extra Stout is the most common beer poured for this cocktail, but feel free to try a local stout such as Prairie Artisan Ale’s Prairie Bomb or Christmas Bomb.

Stout beer

Brut champagne

Half-fill a Collins or beer glass or champagne flute with champagne and top up slowly with the stout.


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