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4 recipes for champagne cocktails

Ah, time to crack open that champagne . . . and that orange juice and that Cognac and that pomegranate juice and that watermelon puree.

You get the idea.

Champagne is moving out of the stand-alone world and into the cocktail one.

The options are endless, says Kim Hassarud, a consultant, writer and former bartender. Her newest book, "101 Champagne Cocktails," includes everything from the simple, classic Bellini to the not-so-simple Royal Gin Fizz, which incorporates an egg white and creme de cassis into a delicious libation.

Champagne cocktails have a distinct advantage for the party host because they offer a lower alcohol content, particularly when mixed with juice, so guests aren't as likely to overindulge, Hassarud said.

And cocktails can be a great introduction to champagne for people who aren't sure about it, said Mary Seiley, who co-owns M&R Fine Wine and Spirits in Greer with her brother, Robert Glass.

"People might not like the dry taste of a sparkling wine, but if you put something sweeter in, it just changes the whole ballgame," Seiley said. "And you've still got this pretty, bubbly drink that puts off this great aroma. So . . . use your imagination. Don't be afraid to experiment."

Because bubbly is such a festive drink, New Year's might be the perfect time to explore the world of champagne cocktails, said Davide Sabbadino, wine manager at Steller Wine Bar in Greenville. And with the influx of sparkling wine from areas such as Spain, Italy and California (only champagne from the Champagne region of France may be labeled such), the price is much more affordable.

Champagnes are classified from extremely dry (Brut Nature) to very sweet (Doux), but most are labeled medium dry (Brut), and those are the best for cocktails, Sabbadino said.

One of his favorite sparkling wines is cava from Spain. The mild, dry flavor is perfect on its own but makes a great addition to a cocktail because it is not overpoweringly sweet or dry, and the $10-$20 per bottle price tag makes it extremely affordable.

"The biggest misconception about bubbles would be that you have to pay for quality," Sabbadino said. "I would not use a $50 bottle of champagne to make mimosas," the classic champagne and orange juice duo. "I would go cheap."

But beyond juice, there are endless options. In her book, Hassarud implements bitters, liqueurs and other alcohols to create new flavors. Some of her favorite creations are the series of sorbet cocktails she developed. The sorbet can be scooped into the bottom of a champagne flute with champagne poured on top for a pretty presentation, or softened and blended.

The result, she said is "so silky velvety smooth."

Another easy way to spruce up champagne is by adding a nice garnish, Hassarud said. A lemon peel twist is classic, but for something with punch, she suggests candied hibiscus flowers or specialty flavored sugars, both of which can be found at specialty grocery stores.

Or, Sabbadino said, use sparkling wine as an easy way to amp up a simple punch or sangria. It's a great enhancer to a fruity cocktail such as a cosmo, appletini or even a screwdriver, he says.

Bubbles add a certain je ne sais quoi, Hassarud said. "I think it is the ultimate celebratory cocktail."

But "any occasion can be a special occasion for champagne," she added. "It doesn't have to be necessarily a milestone."

Bubbly cocktails

Recipes from "101 Champagne Cocktails" by Kim Hassarud

Bada bing

1 serving

2 basil leaves, sliced into thin strips

3 pitted bing cherries, plus 2 extra for garnish (optional)

1 ounce Plymouth gin

1/2 ounce simple syrup (see recipe below)

1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

3 to 4 ounces champagne

- Combine basil, cherries, gin, simple syrup, maraschino liqueur and lime juice in a cocktail shaker with crushed ice. Shake moderately and pour into a highball glass (add more crushed ice if needed).

- Top off with champagne and stir. If desired, garnish with two skewered Bing cherries.

To make simple syrup: Combine 1/2 cup sugar with 1/2 cup hot water and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool before using.

Poinsettia cocktail

1 serving

1/2 ounce orange liqueur (Grand Marnier, Cointreau, Triple Sec)

3 ounces cranberry juice, chilled

Orange twist

Champagne, chilled

- In a champagne flute, combine the orange liqueur and chilled cranberry juice. Add the orange twist, top with champagne and serve. This also can be served in a wine glass.

Limoncello sparkle

1 serving

1 ounce limoncello (an Italian lemon liqueur)

1/2 ounce Cointreau

Champagne

Long lemon peel for garnish

- Combine limoncello and Cointreau in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake moderately and strain into a champagne flute. Top with champagne. Garnish with a long lemon peel.

Cider bellini

1 serving

Thin red apple slice for garnish

1 ounce apple juice

1 ounce simple syrup

1/2 ounce Hennessy cognac

Dash ground cinnamon

Dash ground allspice

Dash ground cloves

3-4 ounces champagne

- Place a red apple slice in a champagne flute and set aside. Combine apple juice, simple syrup, cognac, cinnamon, allspice and cloves in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and pour over the apple slice. Top with champagne.

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