If you’re ever in doubt about what beverage to serve for New Year’s Eve, you can’t go wrong with champagne. It’s low in calories, puts everyone in the mood to celebrate and who doesn’t love the sound of pop and fizz!
Certainly, champagne seems to have that magic ingredient that makes life a little bit more exciting and enjoyable, but staring down the aisle of champagne bottles can make you overwhelmed with choices. How many bottles to buy? What’s Brut vs. Extra Brut? Is Cava really a sparkling wine? Our quick-start “Champagne 101” tips listed below will help you de-code the mysteries of champagne cocktails and will have you heading into 2015 as a sparkling wine expert.
How Much Champagne to Buy?
Champagne is something no one turns down. On average, you’ll get four to five glasses per bottle. Here’s our rule of thumb shopping guide:
Party of 4 = 1–2 bottles
Party of 8 = 2–4 bottles
Party of 12 = 3–5 bottles
Party of 20 = at least a 12-bottle case
Champagne: Dry or Sweet?
One way to categorize the various types of champagne is by the level of dryness, which is related to the sugar content. The amount of sugar (dosage) added after the second fermentation will dictate the sweetness level of the Champagne.
Brut Natural and Extra Brut: These have less than six grams of residual sugar per liter and are considered the driest kind of sparkling wines you can buy. In this type of champagne, the yeast has eaten almost all of the sugar, and there’s been no addition of sweetness prior to bottling.
Brut: This is the most popular type of sparkling wine. The wine is dry, but there is just a hint of sweetness. In this type, the winemaker stopped the fermentation process just before the yeast ate all of the sugar, leaving a small amount behind in the wine.
Extra Dry: This type of sparkler is dry, but not as dry as Brut or Extra Brut, meaning it retains a slight sweetness. It’s not sugary sweet, although it will be noticeably sweeter than Brut wines. Prosecco is most often Extra Dry.
Sec: Considered to be in the “medium sweet” range, Sec champagnes have a residual sugar of 17-35 grams of sugar per liter.
Demi-sec: This is a sweet sparkling wine. One would usually drink Demi-sec with desert, as there is a prevalent amount of noticeable sugar.
It’s All About the Grapes
Most champagnes are blends of three grapes: pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay. Although these three main grapes account for just about all champagnes, how these grapes are used helps classify your wine.
Blanc de Noirs: When a white champagne is produced using black or red grapes it is called blanc de noirs which means “white of blacks” in French meaning a white wine from dark grapes. A well-known example is a variety of champagne produced from Pinot Noir grapes.
Blanc de Blanc: More common is blanc de blanc, meaning “white of whites”, which is produced using white Chardonnay grapes and has a delicate, light flavor.
Rose: Another type is “rose champagne,” which ranges in color from pale orange to luminescent pink in color, is made using small amounts of red wine blended with the white to produce a slightly sweeter taste.
Prosecco: Prosecco, Italy’s famed sparkling wine, and the name of the white grape that is used to produce the bubbly itself, hails from the Veneto region, in the northeast of the Italian boot and it’s typically a fantastic value wine find – as versatile as it is economical. Prosecco’s claim to fame is that it’s the primary ingredient (along with peach puree) in the popular Bellini cocktail.
Asti: Italy is well known for another sparkling wine that is frequently served with dessert. Asti (formally known as Asti Spumante) is made from the super sweet moscato bianco grape, also used in Moscat wine. Due to the sugar content in the grape, Asti spumanti has a delicate sweetness and is a fantastic complement to cheese and fruit, or heavy cakes. Moscato d’Asti isn’t full-blown bubbly. Instead, it’s frizzante—softly bubbly and frothy, with a pleasant sweetness and low alcohol maxing out at 5.5% (less than half of what’s in Champagne).
Cava: Spain’s contribution to the sparkling wine scene, Cava is a fresh, dry wine from grapes such as Xarel-lo, macabeo, parellada and occasionally Chardonnay. It is mostly produced in the Catalan region, but can come from other areas in Spain, too. Cava is made using the traditional methods like Champagne, except than instead of hand-riddling (complex process involving both the turning and tilting of bottles in an upright rack, to collect the sediment at the neck of the bottle), most Cava producers have a fancy machine to do it for them and cut down on the cost for you, making it much less expensive. Cava tends to be drier and less fruity than the similarly priced Prosecco.
Bring on the Bubbly
Bubbles seem to be the perfect way to end the year, so raise your glasses one last time this year and ring in 2015 with one of these delicious champagne cocktails.
Champagne Cocktail – The champagne shines through in this classic ~ with a hint of added flavor from spirits, bitters and citrus peel.
- 1 sugar cube
- 6+ shakes of Angostura bitters
- Lemon or orange peel twist, for garnish
Soak sugar cube in bitters and drop into glass. Top with champagne and garnish with lemon peel.
Kir Royale – The Kir Royale is a swanky champagne and cream de cassis (black currant) cocktail that looks and tastes great. This cocktail can be served year-round.
- 1/2 oz. Creme de Cassis
- Lemon twist or blackberries, for garnish
Fill flute with champagne, top with creme de cassis and garnish.
Limoncello Sparkler – This sparkling cocktail gets an added dose of sweetness and sun thanks to a splash of limoncello. The recipe comes from Kim Haasarud’s book, 101 Champagne Cocktails.
- 1 oz. Limoncello
- 1/2 oz Cointreau
- Lemon peel twist, for garnish
Combine the limoncello and Cointreau in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a champagne flute. Top with champagne and garnish.
Red Ginger Fizz
This is a fun blend of Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur and pomegranate juice with your favorite Prosecco.
With only 4 ingredients, the classic French 75 is a perfectly integrated combination of floral gin and citrus with the delicate pop of champagne.
Sage Ginger Prosecco Cocktail
The base of this cocktail is an easy simple syrup infused with sage and ginger. Refreshing and festive once champagne is added to the mix!
Cheers to 2015!