It’s that time of the year to break out the bubbly and let the corks fly. While most sparkling wines are traditionally sipped straight, a splash of bubbly can add extra “bling” to your cocktails, even on a budget. In any drink recipe what a well-made, dry sparkler brings to the mix is a crisp acidity and festive fizz, so once you’ve chosen your sparkler, grab your shaker and get started.
When it comes to bubbles, our thoughts may instantly turn to Champagne, but lucky for us (and our wallets) there are plenty of quality sparkling wines being made throughout the world that are both festive and frugal.
Many quality sparkling wine producers use the traditional grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) and winemaking methods from the Champagne region, while others have their own unique heritage and use native varietals.
California, Oregon and Washington offer a large selection of sensibly priced sparklers. The cool but moderate climates allow winemakers to grow grapes with crisp acidity, a prerequisite for quality sparklings. It was in California’s Anderson Valley, just north of Sonoma, that one of the finest French Champagne houses, Louis Roederer, took its first step at international expansion, founding Roederer Estate. In Napa, Domaine Chandon is the popular U.S. outpost of Moët & Chandon and not far down the road, Mumm Napa has equally authentic heritage in its parent winery G.H. Mumm. Some American sparklers are expensive, but there are bargain bubbles to be found. Roederer Estate from California and Domaine Ste. Michelle from Washington are two consistently excellent choices, making wines in the $10-20 range that offer a lot of bubble for your buck.
Like some of the best bubblies in America, Prosecco -- one of the most famous Italian sparklers -- comes from a cool climate, in this case the Venato, the northern region of Italy near Venice. For cocktails, stick to spumante (fully sparkling) and dry, and there are plenty of choices around $12-18.
Cava, the Spanish sparkler, is the most cost-conscious choice, offering dependable quality for around $10. It’s made from Spanish grapes, in most cases predominantly Macabeo, with Parellada and Xarel-Lo, but Chardonnay is also permitted.
Herve Rousseau, owner of Flute Champagne bars in New York and Paris, has been mixing up bubbly cocktails for more than a decade. He offers two important tips when crafting sparkling cocktails:
Don't make them too sweet
Keep sparkling cocktails on the drier side, so the crisp acidity of the main ingredient can shine through.
Shake it up
Shake up all of the other ingredients with ice, just like any other cocktail to get it properly chilled and all of the flavors blended. Strain your main mixture into a glass (preferably a flute), and then add the sparkling to keep it bubbly.
Jonathan Pogash, aka The Cocktail Guru, has plenty of experience with sparkling sippers and worked behind the bar at Flute early in his career. The Ginger Pomegranate Champagne created by Pogash (see recipe at left) has a festive bright red color, and the warm spicy bite of fresh ginger makes it a perfect toast for the season.
Korinne Munson is based in New York and an expert on all things Champagne and sparkling wine, having been a brand manager for Veuve Clicquot and U.S. Brand Ambassador for Krug.