Champagne cocktails!

As 2010 sputters to an end, there's no need to spend a fortune to usher in a more successful 2011.

Last year, as the clock struck midnight, I stood out on a snowy deck with two bottles of cheap sparkling wine tucked into a snowbank that ran against the side of the house. We shoved the stems of our champagne coupes into the snow that piled up on the thick railing, and watched the fireworks pop and sizzle in the sky. It was a simple night; a good end to the year and start to the new one.

Cheap champagne, prosecco or sparkling wine can be the key to a great New Year's Eve, a simple way to keep the cost of your festivities down and a catalyst to getting creative when it comes to celebratory cocktails. Krug or Louis Roederer vintages just aren't necessary. With a couple of simple mixes, you can have a fantastic drink with your old friend the New Year's Baby---Baby Canadian.

As sparkling wines go, Baby Canadian--- much like its appropriately maligned counterpart, Baby Duck---is pretty terrible. It's basically the boozy equivalent of buying a two-litre bottle of Diet Coke. Which is to say, there's nothing really good about it, but sometimes there's nothing better. When a magnum of champagne costs less than the pizza you might order to eat with it, that's a hard thing to resist.

When you're looking to mix champagne cocktails you needn't be too concerned about buying the best. Freixenet Carta Nevada or Cordon Negro and Gancia Prosecco Brut are pretty decent options that come in well below $20, but when it comes to New Year's, bigger is better so there always tends to be one of those great big bottles casting its sugary shadow over the rest of the bar.

A flute is still the best glass to use if you really want to maximize the bubbly effect, but I'm partial to the coupe, simply because I'm also partial to the classic champagne cocktail: a sugar cube and a dash of bitters. That's a drink that never looks better than it does in the hand of Cary Grant, and that tends to be in the saucer-shaped glass.

It's also easy to use seasonal and holiday fruit to make your own festive cocktails. You can make simple purees out of cranberries, persimmon, quinces or pear. Cook up your own concoctions using whatever's in the pantry---sugar, vanilla and any other herbs and spices from mint to thyme, ginger, rosemary or black pepper---whatever flavours you like together. Strain and put it aside for use on New Year's Eve. Or make simple syrup on your stovetop and infuse it with fresh juices and herbs to have cordial on hand.

Or you can take some inspiration from your wintry surroundings and either buy or make some sherbet or sorbets to add fruity flavours and icy charm. Lemon sorbet, gin and champagne make a classic granita for grown-ups.

Lemons are, in fact, great to keep on hand with limes and other liquors that can create the foundation for other classic cocktails--- vodka, gin and liqueurs that can take your sparkling drink to another level through classic cocktails like the Kir Royal or French 75.

Simpler still, just pick up some apple cider or juice---bottled or hand-wrung---from blood oranges, clementines or pomegranates. Stick with holiday flavours and consider what you are planning to pair with your cocktails. You could even nip a little inspiration from the great cocktail menus at local restaurants like Onyx, Morris East or The Bitter End.

As the clock ticks its way to 2011, whether you're drinking cocktails or a simple glass of cava, skewer a dozen grapes and serve it with your drinks when you're ready for the countdown. At midnight give your toast and gobble down the grapes. In this Spanish tradition each grape represents one month of the year; hopefully you won't have any sour ones.

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