Though champagne has become synonymous with any sparkling white wine you’d use to toast the New Year, actual champagne is produced in the Champagne region of France from particular grapes using a specific method. Italian prosecco is similarly controlled; Spanish cava, less so. But sommelier Leslee Miller says a sparkling white wine can be delicious whatever the name—whether Brut Nature (the driest) or Doux (sweet). Drinking champagne in celebration dates back to the royal courts of the 1700s. But Miller reminds us not to forget the food. “Sparkling wines are best with food,” she explains—especially one that shares champagne’s reputation for decadence: caviar. “I have a Russian girlfriend who taught me how to enjoy caviar: on a club cracker, with a smear of French butter, topped with caviar—the absolute best,” she says. Miller also recommends trying champagne and caviar with anything fried, salty, or creamy—especially fried chicken or potato chips. Read on for more tips on enjoying champagne—with caviar, in cocktails, and beyond.
Cambria design shown: Black Rock Matte™
Blackberry Lavender Champagne Cocktail
- 1 Tbsp. lavender flowers, dried or fresh
- 1 c. blackberries, fresh or frozen
- ½ c. maple syrup
- ¼ c. vodka
- 2 750 ml bottle champagne
Boil blackberries, maple syrup, and vodka, mashing gently until berries break down (about 5 minutes). Add lavender flowers (removing stems if fresh) and boil 1 minute. Remove from heat. Optional: Allow to steep from 1 hour to 2 days in the fridge. To serve: Pour 1 Tbsp. blackberry sauce into each champagne flute, add a stem of fresh lavender, and top with chilled champagne.
Recipe is adapted from The Adventure Bite.
Royal Champagne Cocktail
- 1 Tbsp. Grand Marnier
- 1 Tbsp. brandy
- 5 oz. chilled champagne or other sparkling wine
- 1 orange twist
To make the orange twist: Working from the stem end to the bottom, use a small knife to cut a ½-inch wide strip of the outer orange skin, incorporating as little of the white pith as possible (because the white pith is bitter). Now, hold the strip, pith side up, and twist the ends in opposite directions. Run the twist around the rim of the flute. Set orange strip aside for garnish. Pour the Grand Marnier and brandy into the champagne flute. Slowly add chilled champagne. Gently drop the orange twist onto the top of the cocktail for garnish. Serve immediately.
Recipe is adapted from The Kitchen is My Playground.
Blood Orange Champagne Mule
- Juice of ½ a medium blood orange
- Juice of ½ a lime
- 1 oz. vodka
- 8 leaves mint
- 2 oz. chilled ginger beer
- Chilled champagne for topping
In a glass, combine the blood orange juice, lime juice, and vodka. Add the ginger beer and top with champagne. Garnish with blood orange slices and fresh mint. Drink!
Recipe is adapted from Half Baked Harvest.
Getting to the Good Stuff
When opening champagne, the primary goal is safety. “There’s 80 pounds of pressure behind this cork,” Miller says. Keep your hand on the cork and point it away from people. Remove the foil, rest the bottle on a solid surface for leverage and twist open the cage. “This is where you’re going to start to have some issues with pressure,” says Miller, who recommends turning the bottle rather than the cork, so it releases with more of a sigh than a bang. But what of sabrage, the technique where one uses a sharp blade to sever the neck of the bottle? “Not recommended if you do not know what you are doing,” warns Miller.
Cambria design shown: Inverness Bronze
Pair Like a Pro with Advice from Leslee Miller
With Russian Osetra Caviar—Pair this with a blanc de noir from Champagne, France. The depth and layered mouthfeel of Osetra deserves a sparkling wine from Champagne made only of black grapes for more texture! Jean Laurent Champagne Brut Blanc de Noirs is ideal.
With White Sturgeon Caviar—Try a sip of something like Steenberg Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa; the clean lines of both are outstanding together.
With Trout Caviar—I love this with a blanc de blanc sparkling (made entirely of the white grape, chardonnay). Try Oregon’s sparkling Blanc de Blanc from Argyle winery.
Leslee Miller is a certified sommelier and owner of Amusée wine club.
[Updated on 12/05/2023]