With the holiday season looming upon us, thoughts of elaborate dinner parties, gifts for our loved ones, and holiday shopping are filling our heads. As stressful as the holidays are, at their core they are a celebration of food, drink, and spending time with those closest to us. For me, any celebration instantly makes me think of bubbles (I traditionally carry a bottle of bubbly around with me every New Year’s Eve) and champagne/sparkling wine is an ingredient that I love to use in cocktails because it enhances both the flavor and texture of the drink.
First of all, I should mention that the term ‘champagne’ refers to any sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France. Their rules and methods are specific to that appellation and any bubbly made outside of Champagne is called ‘sparkling wine.’ So from here on in I will refer to the latter term, since I have seen more sparkling wines like Prosecco, Cava, or Moscato rather than champagne used in most cocktails. There are lots of different kinds—too many to mention here—but their levels of sweetness should be taken into account when considering cocktail ingredients to ensure a good balance of flavors. Whatever bubbly you choose, its versatility is great as the base alcohol or an additional ingredient with other liqueurs.
Everyone knows the brunch favorite Mimosa and some may know the Bellini and the Kir Royale. Some of my favorite traditional cocktails are the French 75, which is a lot like a Tom Collins but with sparkling wine instead of soda water. Many people are not so into gin, but when you mix it with lemon juice, sugar, and bubbly, it’s amazing. And you don’t get the heavy juniper taste from some gins once you mix it up. Another classic and fun drink I love that you really don’t see much anymore is aptly named the Champagne Cocktail. Here you start with a bitters soaked sugar cube, add about an ounce of Cognac, and fill with whatever dry sparkling wine you like. Garnishing any of these is optional 9but a simple lemon twist or a cherry (especially a brandied one) is perfect.
I’ve made some great cocktails over the years using some really good recipes created from friends of mine I have worked with. The Big Sissy, made by Akio Enders at Maxie’s Supper Club in Ithaca, is a take on the Kir Royale but with more of a kick. Chris Grocki, now the General Manager of Char Steak & Lounge created 75 Euros, a variation of the French 75 using Aperol. This Italian liqueur is similar to Campari and has a complex combination of ingredients such as blood orange, gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona, amongst others. And the sweetness and small, soft bubbles of the Moscato react with the preserves and balance out the bitterness of the Aperol and lemon juice quite nicely. I’m not sure exactly who created The Saint but it has been a staple on the cocktail menu at Next Door Bar & Grill in Pittsford for good reason, not to mention that it is Danny Wegman’s favorite drink.
Here’s to a happy and safe holiday season!
1 oz Gin (also good with vodka if you’re not a gin drinker)
3/4 oz St Germain, an elderflower liqueur
Dry (brut) sparkling wine
Combine gin/vodka and St Germain in a shaker with ice, shake well and double-strain into a martini glass. Top with sparkling wine. Zest a lemon over the drink to introduce a layer of citrus oil to the recipe and drop zest in for garnish.
3/4 oz Tanqueray Rangpur Gin
1/2 oz Aperol
1/2 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
Splash of simple syrup
Moscato, a sweet Italian sparkling wine
Combine gin, Aperol, and lemon juice in a shaker with ice, shake & double-strain into a flute with a dollop of strawberry preserves already in it. Top with Moscato.
The Big Sissy
1 1/2 oz citrus vodka, Skyy Citrus
1 oz Chambord
1/4 oz fresh lime juice
Dry (brut) sparkling wine, a Prosecco or Cava work best
Combine vodka, a 1/2 oz of Chambord, & lime juice in a shaker with ice, shake well and double-strain* into a martini glass. Top with sparkling wine. Sink another 1/2 oz of Chambord to give the drink somewhat of an ombre effect. Garnish with a lemon twist.
*Double-straining employs a small, cone-like strainer that catches the ice chips created from shaking. This creates a cold drink that is not “bruised”, or watered down from the ice chips melting in the alcohol.