Bobby Heugel's Weekly Cocktail: The Champagne Cocktail

The champagne cocktail is among the simplest and most enjoyable cocktails around. Those who have never had a champagne cocktail might scoff at the thought of ruining precious champagne with bitters and sugar, but this drink, which has existed for more than 200 years, has plenty to offer. The champagne cocktail generally turns mediocre and inexpensive sparkling wine into a great drink, so one would think this and other wine cocktails would be a budget staple at Houston wine bars. Unfortunately, they're pretty scarce.

But 13 Celsius has been serving champagne cocktails to its patrons for years. These are the types of details that make 13 not only one of Houston's best wine bars -- it has one of the city's most intriguing wine lists -- but one of our best bars period. And the champagne cocktail at 13 is one of the city's best cocktails. This may seem like a small issue, but it is refreshing to see a wine bar that stocks its wines so carefully recognize the importance of wine-based cocktails as playful, refreshing starters. It would be awesome if other wine bars in Houston would follow 13's lead.

As discussed weeks back in regards to the old-fashioned, classically, a cocktail is a drink containing a spirit, sugar and bitters. The champagne cocktail follows this basic prototype, but uses champagne instead of a spirit such as bourbon.

The Champagne Cocktail

  • 6-7 ounces dry sparkling wine
  • 1 Sugar cube
  • 2-3 Dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Lemon twist (Optional)
  • Fill a champagne flute half full with the sparkling wine. Soak the sugar cube with the dashes of bitters and carefully place the cube into the flute. Allow the wine to settle and fill with more sparkling wine. Garnish with a lemon twist if desired.

    While wine cocktails are rare in Houston, but there are a few other great ones. Occasionally, Catalan's Antonio Gianola's adoration for the Aperol spritz seems as critical to his identity as a sommelier as his love for Savennières - occasionally. Sean Beck's cocktails at Backstreet frequently contain intriguing combinations that involve wine. Currently, they have a cocktail made with Sauvignon Blanc, cachaça, St. Germain, lime and gooseberry. The ratafias at T'afia, however, are perhaps Houston's best-known and tastiest wine-based cocktails. But all three of these outstanding examples of Houston wine cocktails are offered at restaurants. Why not wine bars? Sure, some wine bars make sangria and other wine-based beverages, but wine as a cocktail ingredient is scarcely apparent at any of them.

    If you've never given that ancient classic, the champagne cocktail, a chance, consider a trip to 13 for an eye-opening experience. Or for that matter, put a sugar cube in your pocket with a small bottle of bitters and walk into any wine bar in Houston to show them how it is done. Just be ready to be persistent when they sneer at the thought of ruining their carefully selected sparkling angels.

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