The Most Romantic Drink for Valentine’s Day
Champagne is both celebratory and romantic. So for Valentine’s Day, it’s a natural. Who can resist some bubbly?
And serving it as a Champagne Cocktail makes it even more bubbly. Really.
Recipe: Classic Champagne Cocktail
Look around and you’ll find dozens of recipes for Champagne Cocktails, quite a few of which require cognac or brandy and fruit. We’re not going there.
Instead, we’re talking about the Classic Champagne Cocktail — classic because over the years it’s been accepted as the standard recipe. The one that dates back to Jerry Thomas’ The Bartender’s Guide: How to Mix Drinks, first published in 1862.
The ingredients? Champagne, a sugar cube, and bitters. Easy.
But what Champagne to use? Not the really good stuff. And not the really cheap stuff (as in, those $5 bottles you occasionally see). Something in the $10 - $15 range is about right, which means you’ll probably use sparkling wine instead of actual Champagne. Much more on this in the Notes.
Each drink is one serving. Depending on the size of your glasses, a bottle of Champagne contains 4 to 6 servings.
- 1 sugar cube
- 3 – 6 dashes of Angostura bitters (I like 6, but I recommend you start with 3 unless you know you like bitters)
- 4 – 6 ounces of Brut Champagne or sparkling wine (amount depends on how large your glasses are; for the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine, see Notes)
- optional lemon twist for garnish
- Soak sugar cube with bitters.
- Place in Champagne flute.
- Slowly pour Champagne into the glass (so it doesn’t overflow) until it’s within an inch of the rim.
- Add lemon twist as garnish, if you wish.
- The purpose of the sugar isn’t so much to sweeten the cocktail (although of course it does) but to enhance bubble formation. Champagne and sparkling wine are naturally bubbly; the sugar makes them more so.
- Because you’re sweetening the Champagne, you don’t want to use the best stuff when you make this drink. But before we talk labels, let’s first define Champagne.
- Champagne is a sparkling wine produced in the Champagne wine region of northeastern France, which includes the provinces of Aube, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, Montagne de Reims, and Vallée de la Marne. According to European law, only sparkling wine that comes from these provinces (and is bottled under certain conditions) can be sold as “Champagne.”
- One of these conditions is that Champagne must undergo a second fermentation in the bottle, a technique called “méthode champenoise.” By European law, that wording can now be used only to describe sparkling wine produced in the official Champagne region. Other sparkling wines now use the nomenclature “méthode traditionnelle” or “fermented in the bottle” or the equivalent to indicate they are made in same way as Champagne.
- Most of the decent sparkling wines made in the US, and all of the cavas made in Spain, are fermented in the bottle. Many of these rival true Champagne for flavor and quality.
- Now that I’ve explained the meaning of the word “Champagne,” I will proceed to misuse it throughout most of this post. Why? Because, even though this recipe is called Champagne Cocktail, you really want to use sparkling wine instead of true Champagne.
- Most real Champagne is simply too good to use in a cocktail. You should drink Champagne chilled and neat. Full stop. I don’t believe you can find a bottle of true Champagne in the US for under $25. Why spend that much when better, lower cost cocktail alternatives exist?
- So what to buy? My best advice is to go to the closest decent wine store, explain to the sales clerk that you’re making Champagne Cocktails, and ask his recommendation for something costing $10 or so. Every wine store stocks something in that price range that would be appropriate. But because every store has different stock, it’s hard to predict what exactly it might have available.
- If you’re buying your Champagne at the supermarket, I suggest looking at one of the Spanish cavas. Codorníu and Freixenet are the two biggest producers, and it’s the rare supermarket that doesn’t stock one of them. Cavas can be real deals — I regularly see some priced at $8 - $9 that are quite drinkable.
- If you prefer a domestic brand, Domaine Ste.-Michelle and Korbel produce decent Bruts that cost $10+.
- My favorite "Champagne" in this price range is Saint-Hilaire (the full name is Saint-Hilaire, Blanquette de Limoux). Made in a Benedictine Abbey in southwestern France, this wine actually predates Champagne and is in fact France’s oldest sparkling wine. Thomas Jefferson loved it, and served it to guests when he was President. In St. Louis, where I live, this wine usually is priced in the $12 - $14 range — but (in my opinion) drinks more like many $25 or $30 bottles of Champagne. Not only is it an extremely nice sparkling wine on its own, it also makes a great Champagne Cocktail.
- Because Champagne Cocktails are on the sweet side, you probably will want to drink them as an aperitif, or perhaps with dessert. Their flavor may not be an ideal complement to the rest of the menu. Either drink something else with dinner, or just rinse out your glasses and drink the rest of the bottle of sparkling wine straight.
- Now for the other cocktail ingredients: Do buy sugar cubes — they’ll take longer to dissolve than plain granulated sugar, which prolongs the sugar’s bubble-making effect. Every supermarket stocks them.
- For bitters, I highly recommend Angostura in this drink. Its flavor provides contrast with the sugar and spices up the cocktail. And it adds nice color to the drink.
- You can also use orange bitters, which have a lighter flavor than Angostura. I’ve tried both and prefer Angostura.
- A twist of lemon peel is the typical garnish for this drink. If you use orange bitters, substitute a twist of orange peel. Or you can add a strawberry to the rim of the glass. I don’t like most garnishes, so I usually skip them.
Drinking from champagne flutes seems to bring out the toastmaster in all of us. So what should you say when you sip a Champagne Cocktail?
For Valentine’s Day, you’ll probably want to say something more than, “Here’s looking at you, kid!” If you’re drinking with your sweetie, you may already have your own “just the two of us” toast. But if you’re looking for something more elaborate, you could try working in a quote from one of the many notables who have offered their thoughts on Champagne. Such as:
Economist John Maynard Keynes, who said that his “only regret in life is that I didn’t drink enough Champagne.”
Or Napoleon Bonaparte: “In victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it.”
Or Winston Churchill: “Remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!”
Then linger and enjoy your drinks. Have another round. The evening is young, the food will wait.
Dare you contemplate a third Champagne Cocktail? Well, it’s a swell drink. And in the words of Mark Twain, “too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.”
You may also enjoy reading about:
The Sidecar Cocktail
The Mai Tai Cocktail
The Sazecrac Cocktail
The Pegu Club Cocktail
The Classic Daiquiri Cocktail