The Best Alternatives to Champagne for New Year’s Eve
How bartenders break tradition with unique wines, spirits and non-alcoholic options
Champagne isn’t just a drink for celebrating. It’s good for cocktails or on its own year-round.
But since you are hopefully being safe and doing NYE as a small, stay-at-home affair this year, you should also get to drink what you want. It was a lousy year across the planet — let’s not limit our year-end, mostly-solitary bacchanalia (or, ugh, “Zoom party”) to tradition.
Also? Not everyone loves bubbly (or “The Devil’s Wine,” as it’s sometimes called.)
“I’ve worked and hosted dozens of New Year’s Eve parties over the years, and I always seem to find more full Champagne glasses than empty after the midnight toast,” admits Anthony Caporale, Director of Spirits Education at the Institute of Culinary Education (who provides a simple, non-Champagne cocktail below).
For more alternatives, we asked over a dozen top bar pros what they would drink on the last day of 2020 that isn’t Champagne. Read on for suggestions.
Nyetimber 1086 is the first prestige cuvee made outside of Champagne. It has a savory fruit flavor flanked by hints of caramel and shortbread from nearly a decade of aging. — Jen Saxby, Sommelier and Marketing Manager at Benchmark Wine Group
A great red wine, specifically, a barolo like Aldo Clerico. This is usually a more expensive wine, but assuming that for most it’s going to be a quiet New Year’s, and it has been a rough year, so I say it’s the perfect time to treat yourself. — Sheila Donohue, Founder, CEO and Sommelier at Vero Vino
A hearty red to keep me warm in the Chicago snow. I am currently loving the 2016 vintage of Viña Pomal Crianza from Rioja. It’s rich, silky smooth with lots of dried cranberries, dried Mediterranean herbs that is perfect for a late New Year’s dinner and if there is any left by midnight, a perfect way to toast in the new year. — Jon McDaniel, award-winning sommelier
Sparkling orange wine is a great way to get into the New Year. I love Cantina Giardino “Olimpia” from Campagna in Italy. It costs a fraction of the price of champagne, and orange wines are fun and unique. It goes well with cheeses and charcuterie — perfect to get the party started. — Doreen Winkler, natural wine sommelier and founder of Orange Glou
Italian Trento DOC wines (such as Ferrari, Monfort, and Maso Martis) are known for their bracing minerality and brightness, even after years of aging. You’ll get a lot of bright citrus notes along with the quintessential brioche and toasty notes that make Champagne so appealing. — Annie Shapero, founder of wine education company DiVino
A Hot Mulled White Wine. It’s white wine simmered with simple syrup, cinnamon, orange peels, whole star anise, lemon peel, whole allspice, whole cloves, vanilla extract and orange oil. — Emmanuel West, certified sommelier and beverage director at Magdalena (Baltimore)
Growing up my family always had a meal centered around steamed Dungeness crab on New Year’s Eve. My favorite beverage to enjoy with simple steamed crab is a great Chablis (e.g. 2017 Chablis, Gilbert Picq “Dessus la Carriere”). There is something truly fantastic about the clean, mineral focused purity of chardonnay from this northern region of Burgundy that shows off the sweet nutty flavors of the crab. — Kevin Reilly, Master Sommelier and Beverage Director at Taub Family Outpost (Sonoma, CA)
We feel very committed to any woman-owned/operated business — with Mijenta Tequila it’s even better because, in addition to its authentic flavor, we identify one hundred percent with the brand. — Brenda and Ana Castellanos, owners of Taqueria El Patron Mexican Grill and Ix Restaurant (NYC)
Calvados, an apple brandy from Normandy, France, has traditionally been enjoyed during the festive season. That delicious hit of crisp apple Calvados is famous for, is the perfect accompaniment to celebratory bubbles. — Tim Etherington, Judge and Founder of Healthy Hospo and Co-Founder of Avallen Spirits
Whiskey. It warms the soul and it’s a perfect compliment to the cold winter weather. Some of my favorites include Glendronach 21 Year and Lone Whisker 12 Year. — Catherine Lien, Lead Mixologist at Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico Steakhouse (Las Vegas)
A copita of your favorite mezcal. It’s a family holiday, so toast with a copita of family-made mezcal to celebrate your ancestors and lift your spirits. Take your grapes on the side this year with a little sal de gusano, one eaten with each chime of midnight to symbolize twelve lucky months ahead in 2021. — James Simpson, Beverage Director at Espita (Washington D.C.)
The Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 10. There’s no better drink suited to describing my personality and my 2020. It brings clarity while lightening the mood and welcoming in a future in which it seeks to brighten. Time has brought it and myself balance while harmonizing flavors as the smokiness wraps itself around a sweetness found from deep within. — Nicole Ross, Head Bartender at The Chester (NYC)
Rockey’s Botanical is a liqueur made from pineapples, green apples, black and green tea. Whether served hot or cold cocktails, it’s great with rum, tequila, vodka, beer or champagne. — Gabriel Figueroa, Assistant Restaurant Director at Vestry
No- and Low-Alcohol
Dry Secco by Grüvi. It’s bubbly and tastes like Prosecco but does not contain alcohol, so it won’t cause hangovers — or a buzz for that matter. It’s perfect for New Year’s, and specifically for toasts. — Hilary Sheinbaum, author of The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month
Tepache is a bartender’s BFF. It’s fizzy, fruity, and a little funky depending on how the pineapple’s been fermented, it can be a more interesting drink to serve than Champagne or sparkling wine. — Austin Sherman, formerly of SoBou (New Orelans) and co-founder of Big Easy
This Cherry Pomegranate Non-Alcoholic Bellini is the perfect New Year’s drink for those that want to celebrate with something special but are looking to skip the booze. It also looks great in a Champagne flute. — Kelly Bertog, founder of the non-alcoholic wine/spirits/beer community YOURS
Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider. Neither my parents nor my wife’s parents drink alcohol, so it’s a staple at family gatherings. I find it to be a great replacement for Champagne if you want to make a non-alcoholic mimosa or bellini. — Greg Kong head bartender at Kimika (NYC)
Sparkling apple cider. I prefer an elegant, dry style, and one that is bottle conditioned and made in the champenoise method. The alcohol levels on ciders are typically a bit lower than their French counterparts as well. This year I’m drinking Autumn’s Gold from Eve’s Cidery in the Finger Lakes. Crisp apple notes, with a biting acidity and absolutely no sweetness. — TJ Provenzano, co-owner and beverage director of Rosella (NYC)
I was born and raised in Brittany in France, and the tradition there is to drink cider as an everyday beverage. Ciders are getting closer to wines in terms of specificity, with vintages, selection of unique parcels and terroirs selected for its combination with apple varieties. My pick would be Cuvee Divona from Johanna Cecillon — it has a light golden straw color, a fruity and spicy nose, with vanilla flavors on the palate. — Quentin Vauleon, sommelier at Frevo (NYC)
A Boulevardier. Equal parts Campari, bourbon and vermouth, this drink is great for drinking around a fire in flannels. But, for NYE, make it a little fancier with a cocktail glass and a blood orange slice and cherry for garnish. — Holly Mills, Thrive Cuisine
I go with a riff on the Beadletown Special incorporating blended Scotch, which pays homage to the great Scottish poet Robert Burns, who penned “Auld Lang Syne.” In the cocktail, the Sherry adds a nice note of salinity and functions in combination with the Bénédictine as similar to a Vermouth, fleshing out the components into a sipping beverage with complex notes of apple skins, chamomile and honey. — Chantal Tseng, co-founder of Redeye Menus and a Sherry educator
I’m making whiskey highballs. You get the fizz from the ginger ale, and you can use a traditional highball glass … or it’ll work nicely in a Champagne flute. Add a splash of cranberry juice to make it more festive. — Matty Sims, The Bourbon Bard
The Jack Rose cocktail. This year is likely how Americans felt after surviving their first year of Prohibition, so we’re going to spend this New Year’s Eve like our ancestors with this pre-Prohibition cocktail. Just combine 3/4 ounce lime juice, 3/4 ounce Grenadine and 2 ounces apple brandy or Calvados in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake and strain into a coupe.” — CJ Catalano, Beverage Manager at Fairmont Century Plaza (Los Angeles)
I created the Art of the Drink cocktail in 2007; I like the warmth and depth of flavor bourbon brings to winter celebrations, and pairing it with a fall harvest fruit like apples adds to the seasonal feel of the drink. In a Champagne flute, add 1 Demerara sugar cube, 2 dashes Angostura Bitters, 1 oz. Maker’s Mark Bourbon and 4 oz. chilled Hard Cider. Express an orange peel over top and slide into glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry. — Anthony Caporale, Director of Spirits Education at the Institute of Culinary Education
Chambord with a float of heavy cream. Pour 2 ounces of Chambord into a champagne flute and slowly pour about 1/2 ounce of heavy cream over a spoon to gently cover the Chambord. It’s like drinking dessert.” — Gina Buck, Beverage Director at Concord Hill (NYC)
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