SPARKLING WINE and champagne are the new year’s drink of choice, BUT if you’re like us you might find them to bE TOO DRY OR BORING ON their OWN. TIME TO GET CREATIVE!
Even though the holiday celebrations are smaller this year - and in many cases only virtual - the midnight toast is one tradition we’re not ready to forego. But for some of us, we take one sip of that glass of sparkling wine or champagne and toss the rest down the drain, which is a shame considering that wine could find a better use in a deliciously bubby cocktail!
Sparkling wine and champagne cocktails can be some of the season’s brightest and most fun, and best of all they’re usually pretty simple to make. As a matter of fact, one of the first cocktails ever made was with champagne: The Champagne Cocktail originally appeared in The Bartenders Guide, published in 1862.
Learning the basics of incorporating sparkling wine and champagne into cocktails is a snap. The classic Italian Spritz is another great example of how this bubbly ingredient can provide the base for a festive and well-balanced holiday cocktail.
You might be asking yourself: does wine actually work in a cocktail? To which we reply with a resounding yes! Wine is fundamentally structured as an ideal cocktail base: low alcohol content, sometimes dry and with bright acidity, it’s the perfect backbone for building the flavors of sweet, bitter and sour around it. Read on for our best tips and tricks for building a sparkling wine or champagne cocktail this holiday season.
1. Look for A BRUT (ie. DRY) WINE
Begin your journey into the world of sparkling wine and champagne cocktails with a brut wine. Using a dry wine allows you to add sweetener to your desired taste and get more creative with your recipes. The classic champagne cocktail is a great example of this: built with just three ingredients (including sugar), brut wine is key to its success since using a sweet wine would create an unpleasantly sweet drink. Opting for the dry acidity of a brut wine allows you to balance the sweet, sour, and bitter ingredients of the cocktail.
In terms of quality, we recommend a mid-price bottle. The bubbles comprise the bulk of your cocktail, so you definitely want it to taste delicious, but save the top shelf bottles for sipping on their own.
2. What about ice?
Ice is crucial for the dilution of higher-proof cocktails as well as to keep them chilled for the duration of their enjoyment. However, since sparkling wine and champagne cocktails are often low-proof, dilution isn’t always necessary. Additionally, by using ingredients that are pre-chilled (which we recommend), ice isn’t needed to keep your drink cool.
That said, there are some bubbly cocktails that do require ice, and for these we like to add the non-sparkling ingredients to the glass first followed by the ice. Once the ice is added, pour the sparkling components down the side of the glass and gently stir and lift with a long-handled spoon (more on that spoon later).
3. Create a balanced cocktail with sweet, sour and bitter components
A well-balanced cocktail will have notes of sweet, sour and bitter:
Sweet: fruity or floral liqueurs, sugar cubes or liquid sweeteners, sweet vermouth, lightly-sweetened sodas like Top Note Sparkling Grapefruit Soda
Sour: shrubs, citrus juices
Other: gin, dry vermouth, Top Note Club Soda No. 1
The key to making successful sparkling wine and champagne cocktails is balance. We recommend the "spritz" formula which is 2-3 parts wine to 1/2-1 part of everything else. For example, the French 75, a classic wine based cocktail, is composed of 3 parts wine, 1 part gin, ½ part lemon juice and ½ part simple syrup. For a lower-proof twist, replace some of the wine and/or gin with tonic water or club soda. This helps to keep the ABV to a minimum (because let’s face it: we’ve got a long night of socializing and we’re definitely going to want more than one drink), following in the tradition of Italian spritzes that contain low levels of alcohol and sometimes none at all.
4. Stir gently
Once your cocktail is built, and if needed iced down, the last step is to lift the cocktail gently with a cocktail spoon to stir. We highly recommend a long-handled bar spoon for this, but a regular table spoon will work in a pinch. To stir, nuzzle the spoon down the side of the ice and gently lift the ingredients. Making smaller movements will ensure the bubbles don't get over agitated and your cocktail stays fizzy.
5. GARNISH with flair
Garnish is everything! Drop in a wheel of dehydrated citrus or a few fresh or frozen cranberries, skewer some candied ginger, rim your glass with colorful sugar, or express a citrus peel over your drink for extra aromatics.
Have fun creating something special this holiday season and please remember to drink responsibly. Cheers from Top Note Tonic!