The Champagne Cocktail: Sparkly and Bittersweet Like a TCM Tearjerker

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Sarah Ackerman/Flickr
Champagne cocktail at Sutro's at the Cliff House.
​The 1939 version of Love Affair (a TCM mainstay) is one of the more sophisticated romantic dramedies from Hollywood's Golden Age, so it's only fitting that Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne should meet and spark over the subject of champagne cocktails.

This indisputably elegant concoction is as simple as it is stylish, offering sweetness and sparkle in a tall, translucent package, and dates back to whoever first thought of sweetening their bubbly with fresh fruit and sugar. Drop a sugar cube into a chilled champagne flute and douse it with two or three dashes of Angostura bitters. Fill the glass with chilled champagne, garnish with a spiral of lemon ... et voila. As the bittered sugar dissolves it adds a whole new dimension to the wine, and if you want to get fancy and warm up the drink, a float of cognac isn't out of the question.

Other variations involve orange slices or maraschino cherries instead of the lemon, or Chambord or Campari in place of the cognac, but as with all truly elegant creations, simplest is best. The champagne should be bone-dry and high-end enough to suit the occasion (although that Louis Roederer 2002 Cristal is probably best enjoyed au naturel). Boyer and Dunne specified pink champagne, but they were in love.

Of course, these days, the classic champagne cocktail can seem as old fashioned as a Hollywood melodrama. According to Fifth Floor sommelier Emily Wines, more and more at high-end bars, champagne is showing up as a float on or an ingredient in spirits-based cocktails. Take the Stockholm: A lemon drop, essentially, with Chambord on the bottom and a layer of champagne on top. But don't worry about losing the romance of the champagne cocktail in the liquorous depths of the Stockholm. "It's a really girly drink," Wines said.

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