Studying abroad in Paris robbed me of my ability to eat mediocre cheese, wine, and bread. Ever since those six blessed months (and a few other expat stints along the way), I've struggled to find reasonably affordable, easily accessible high-quality food products — or at the very least, ways to make things like cheap champagne feel more expensive. In New York, for example, if you want to eat good cheese, you're going to have to splurge — you can’t just pop into your corner fromagerie or street market and buy weirdly inexpensive mounds of earthy chèvre and Brie wheels.
What is considered pretty standard and affordable in France — the French mentality being: Of course everyone should have access to the most excellent chèvre and baguettes and tarte tatin, because how could one eat anything less?!? — is out of reach for many New Yorkers, including me. In order to afford rent, for example, I must run past the NYC specialty store Dean & DeLuca with my head down, because entering the store, or even just glancing at the tantalizing window display, is dangerous. Instead, I hold out for those little red-plastic-covered cheese balls, but only when they’re on sale, at the Associated Supermarket, which I wash down with tap water and, if I'm in a self-hating mood, Diet Coke.
Yet when it comes to champagne and all varietals of bubbly wine, a genre of drink that has a reputation for being egregiously overpriced, I’ve found ways to stock up on the absolute cheapest stuff and still feel like the fanciest girl at school.
Because guys, here’s the secret: Cheap champagne is delicious. You just have to do it right. Here are some tips for all you broke champagne lovers looking for a fancy good time.
1. Choose a GOOD cheap champagne. (Don't sleep on André, y'all.)
Not all dirt-cheap champagne is created equally. For your champagne gala, whether it’s just you alone in your bed or just you alone on your couch or just you and a friend on the floor painting your nails, you’ll want a delicious, refreshing champagne. People love to ridicule André, an ubiquitous budget sparkling white, but I’ve never met a person who didn’t enjoy drinking it. (People love laughing at boxed wines, too, but guess what? There are some great ones.) Grab yourself a bottle of André — not the flavored stuff, because those bottles are crammed with cloying, artificial flavors. Or if you have unreasonable prejudices against André because of one bad college experience, check out this smart guide to budget champagnes on Thrillist.
2. Or choose prosecco, cava, or any other sparkling bubbly that can't legally call itself champagne.
For the best deals, open your mind and your heart to champagne-like sparkling wines from all around the world. Trader Joe's Wine Store has a wonderful sparkling wine section, with delicious options under $10. My secret: the super dry — but super lush — Cecilia Beretta Prosecco Treviso DOC, produced in the Treviso region of Italy, just north of Venice. It only costs $7.99, but could pass for $79.99.
3. Don’t drink out of the bottle, you slob!
Invest in some cute, inexpensive champagne flutes. Drinking out of a flute will make you feel like you're at an Oscar after-party and you just won an Oscar. Even if you grab flutes from the Dollar Tree, there's absolutely zero shame in that. Now, put glitter on them. Put glitter on everything. (All you need is a glue stick, cheap glitter, free time, and a sense of possibility!)
4. Put on a party dress because you’re WORTH IT.
Cocktail dresses add fancy to everything. May I recommend Forever 21, the André of women's fashion?
5. Your champagne deserves to get dressed up, too.
Garnish your champies with fresh fruit — sliced berries look gorgeous on top, plus they absorb all the delicious sparkling alcoholic goodness.
If you're looking to impress a crowd while exerting the least amount of effort possible, make adorable fruit kebobs on toothpicks to balance on top of the champagne flutes and freeze them for extra chill. Or just pop fruit, mint, and water into your ice cube tray and, once frozen, plop them into your glittering cup of André:
6. Make a Bellini, damnit.
Prosecco + peach nectar = you're officially an heiress. The combo is impossible to mess up.
And if you're entertaining more people than just you and your cat, make a BELLINI BAR:
7. Keep mixing it up.
Mixing pretty much any fruit juice or nectar with bubbly wine is always a good idea. Always. If you're feeling ambitious, try this elegant blackberry thyme sparkler:
Add a Zen twist to your classic Bellini with some white peach and green tea:
Or party like it's New Year's Eve and involve some Absolut pear vodka and tart cranberries:
If you're feeling super wild, make this "Poor Girl's Punch," which contains a healthy dose of beer, vodka, and champagne.
8. Be emotionally/physically prepared for the impending hangover.
Cheap wine has a reputation for inducing hangovers. I'm not going to deny that; I just can't. So the key here is to anticipate the hangover, both at the time of drinking (Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! And drink over a long period of time), and the following morning. Here is Bustle's handy seven-step guide to conquering post-bacchanalia morning sufferings. You can thank us later.
9. Use any leftover bubbly for fancy-ass cooking.
If you're drinking correctly, you shouldn't have any wine leftover. On the off chance you find yourself with half a bottle to spare, cook something special. Chicken fricasse is a winner, y'all.
Images: Fotolia, Trader Joe's, Forever 21, pamperperfect, agentnateur, jessicamariesmith/Instagram, The Effortless Chic, My Name Is Yeh, Savory Sweet Life, The Kitchn (12, 13); Reese Lloyd/Flickr; giphy (2)