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How to make the perfect Champagne cocktail

Nathan McCarley-O'Neill, director of mixology at Claridge's Hotel in London, shares his recipe for making the perfect Champagne cocktail at home

Words by Nathan McCarley-O'Neill

champagne cocktail bar
The Collection
The perfect champagne cocktail has the right balance of sweetness, citrus, spirit and fizz

Champagne cocktails were originally very different to today’s renderings. Back in the day, the Champagne used would have been sweeter – closer to a demi-sec – but over the years, tastes have changed and less sweet drinks have become the norm. Traditionally, most such cocktails were quite simple, usually including a spirit (generally Cognac or another brandy, since the thinking was that grapes go well with grapes) and then a touch of bitters to balance out the sweetness. In time, citrus notes, in particular lemon, were added and the Champagne’s role became more about carbonation and less about flavour.

champagne in glass
McCarley-O'Neill says Champagne cocktails should be dry on the palate, allowing the flavours and aromatics of the fizz to come through

A spirit-forward Champagne cocktail needs a perfect balance between spirit and fizz, where one does not overpower the other. But a citrus-forward cocktail needs more sweetness to balance the acidity of the citrus and Champagne. Choosing a Champagne, I always lean towards a blanc de blancs or brut, since for me, Champagne cocktails should be drier on the palate. But there are many different options: a blanc de blancs will usually be very dry; a rosé will add red fruit notes; a brut will offer a hint of brioche and lemon; a demi-sec will lend a certain butteriness. My personal choices are Pierre Péters blanc de blancs, Billecart Salmon rosé and Laurent-Perrier brut.

billecart salmon champagne bottle and glasses
McCarley-O'Neill's personal Champagne choices for cocktails include Pierre Peters’ blanc de blancs, Billecart Salmon’s rosé (above) and Laurent Perrier Brut

In terms of serving, I feel a flute works best. The aromatics go upwards and are tightly held, meaning you can release more aromas from the Champagne and the other ingredients. A coupe softens the carbonation so that the drink becomes more about the other ingredients.

Finally, remember that the Champagne needs to be the main factor in the cocktail rather than just a splash on top, otherwise you take a mouthful, the taste is gone, and it becomes just a regular cocktail. A drink like the Alfonso is a great example of the ideal: it balances the alcohol, sweetness and bitterness so they all work in harmony, demonstrating precisely why Champagne cocktails have long been so popular.

alfonso champagne cocktail
McCarley-O'Neill favours a flute to showcase the aromas of this Alfonso cocktail, while a coupe can soften the carbonation (photo by John Carey)

The perfect Champagne cocktail recipe: The Alfonso

Makes one drink:

  • 1 white sugar cube
  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • 20ml (¾fl oz) Dubonnet
  • Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée NV Champagne
  • Place the sugar cube in a flute, soak with the bitters. Add the Dubonnet, and top up with the Champagne

Recipe taken from Claridge’s The Cocktail Book published by Mitchell Beazley. Read our review of the book here

 

This article appeared in the latest issue of Club Oenologique magazine