Nothing sets a mood like a chilled glass of sparkling wine. Sparkling wines can easily elevate any occasion or turn a moment romantic, as well as whet your appetite before dinner. If you’re looking for a few unexpected twists to liven up your bubbly, look no further. Let’s explore three new ways to create or enjoy a refreshing champagne or sparkling wine cocktail.
Sparkling Wine 101
I wanted to provide a quick sparkling wine re-cap before getting into the fun stuff. You know the old adage, “You have to know the rules before you can break them.”
Champagne is a specific kind of sparkling wine that
a.) is produced in the Champagne region of France and
b.) is produced using the méthode champenoise which involves fermenting the wine directly in the bottle to create carbon dioxide – the fizz we all know and love.
Sparkling wine refers to any other carbonated wine made outside of the designated Champagne region. Even though Italian prosecco and German sekt wines may use the méthode champenoise, they can only be designated as sparkling wine because they weren’t made in the Champagne region of France. For more about champagne and sparkling wines from around the world, check out Laina’s post “The Best Sparkling Wines in the World (Not Named Champagne).”
Champagne is made from three grape varietals: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. Blanc de noirs champagnes are made from the red grapes and blanc de blancs are made from chardonnay grapes. Rose champagne is a result of letting the juice macerate in the skin of the Pinot grapes or by adding a small amount of still red wine. Recently, though, producers have been getting more creative, and I’ve even seen a shiraz-based sparkling wine. I find that champagne made from red grapes tends to have more body and darker, earthy flavor profiles. On the other hand, chardonnay-based sparkling wines are more delicate with lighter bodies, but that doesn’t mean their flavor profiles lack complexity.
Also, when purchasing your sparkling wine, consider the level of sweetness and level of carbonation. From least sweet to most, this is the labeling system producers use:
- Brut nature
- Extra brut
- Extra dry/extra sec
It seems a little counter-intuitive but brut is actually less sweet than extra dry. Likewise, the amount of carbonation between champagnes and sparkling wines differs.
If you’re looking for a fresh burst but not the full effect, try a semi-sparkling wine such as spritzig, frizzante, or pétillant.
Looking for specific bottles to enjoy? Check out Elizabeth’s post, “Keep on Celebrating: 12 Months, 12 Sparkling Wines to Try.”
Okay, enough review. Time for the fun stuff.
Trend 1: Champagne & Bitters
The traditional classic champagne cocktail is made by soaking a sugar cube with Angostura bitters, placing it at the bottom of a champagne flute, topping with a dry champagne, and garnishing with a lemon peel.
The role of bitters has changed dramatically since the late 19th century, and many bitters producers are making their product in a variety of flavors. Bittermens creates bitters in such flavors as “Hopped Grapefruit,” “Boston Bittahs” (which is a chamomile and citrus flavor), and “New England Spiced Cranberry.” Similarly, Fee Brothers’ flavored bitters include cherry, peach, and plum versions. Get your hands on some flavored bitters at any boutique kitchen or liquor store, and make an excitingly un-classic champagne cocktail.
To create this cocktail, I’d opt for a true champagne with a sweetness designation of Brut or Extra Dry. (You can always opt out of adding the sugar cube if your champagne is already sweet enough.) Pair a blanc de blancs champagne with citrus or stone fruit bitters and blanc de noirs with dark fruits like the aforementioned cranberry, cherry, and plum bitters.
Trend 2: Champagne & Garnish
Another great way to play with sparkling wine is to infuse it with aromatics such as herbs or spices. What you’ll want to do is infuse a simple syrup with an aromatic of your choice, and let it steep as if it were a tea. Then pour a teaspoon or two of the syrup into a champagne flute, top with sparkling wine, and garnish with the infused item. Voilà! You have created an artisanal sparkling cocktail.
To make simple syrup: Boil 1/2 cup water with 1/2 cup sugar until dissolved. Add your herb or spice to the pot. Consider using lavender, basil, thin ginger slices, rose petals, lemon peel, or vanilla bean. Be creative and experiment! Reduce the water until it’s syrupy. The infused simple syrup will last about a week if refrigerated in an airtight container. It’s best to let the solids sit in the syrup for about an hour or two to let the flavor and aromatics infuse completely into the syrup, but don’t forget to remove them before serving!
Because the flavors and aromas are so delicate in the simple syrup, I’d go with a milder, semi-sparkling wine, perhaps a frizzante or spritzig. They have less carbonation and won’t overpower the delicate flavor of the herbs. Garnish the cocktail by placing a few slices or sprigs of your chosen aromatic directly into the drink.
Trend 3: Champagne & Fruit Puree
The Bellini is a famous (and oh, so simple) champagne cocktail made from peach puree and champagne. Try a new spin on the bellini by replacing the peach with an exotic fruit puree such as passion fruit, guava, mango, red currant, or kumquat. Or try one of the many types of mixed purees on the market such as apple-plum and blueberry-strawberry.
Puree cocktails can produce drinks with beautiful color. Mix a rose sparkling wine with red currant puree and you’ll get a sexy red cocktail. Guava puree with a blanc de blancs will give you a pretty pink drink, and blueberry puree mixed with an extra brut blanc de noirs will give your bubbly a purple-lavender hue.
If you dare to go bold, add a splash of liquor to your pureed cocktails. Match the liquor based on the fruit puree. For example, match tequila with kumquats, passion fruit, and strawberries, and kentucky bourbon with peaches. Add puree, champagne, and a splash of liquor; stir and then garnish.
Hopefully this inspires you to view sparkling wine in a whole new light. The possibilities are endless when it comes to the bubbly, so don’t let an opportunity to celebrate pass by!