The rest of America begins its long winter’s slumber this Friday. The party is over. The Holidays are spent. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s and likely a bunch of birthdays are done, in the can, melted into memories.
However, there is one place where the Holidays are not over. Nor is the party season. In fact, it’s just beginning. Oh, come on, you know the place. Don’t make me say it.
The Carnival Season begins on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, Twelfth Night, and ebbs and flows until the magnificent crescendo at midnight, February 17, when Ash Wednesday puts a little kibosh on the madness, for at least a few days.
So we might as well do what we seem to do best, revel in the moment, toast our good fortune to live in such a magical and crazy place, and keep the party rolling.
There is no better liquid with which to celebrate than wine with bubbles. Festive from the pop of the cork all the way through the last drop of the bottle, just before we repeat the process. Pop, pour, partake, repeat. (Sorry. Could not keep the alliteration going. Dammit.)
On a good note – when it comes to wine with bubbles, there are no bad notes – we have an outstanding array of excellent beverages to select from, and at decent price points. Of course, given our ‘druthers, Champagne itself is the way to go. Pricey, which adds to the decadence factor, but so worth the money.
At the next level down, you can choose a Cremant, which is a wine done in the Champagne style but not from Champagne. Many Cremants hail from the French regions of Loire, Burgundy, or even Champagne itself. They are made in the classic Champagne style but because they are not from a defined area within that wonderful place, they cannot be called Champagne.
Then we come to two popular European favorites, Prosecco from Italy and Cava from Spain. Both are comprised of grapes from their particular areas, and while Prosecco is mostly made in a large-production method named Charmat, Cava is mostly made in the Champagne method.
Here in America, we produce some very good sparkling wines, made in both the Charmat and the Champagne method. Our qualities are all over the map on domestic wines but at the upper tier, which is about half the cost of a good Champagne, we can easily hold our own, even exceed the experiences, against Prosecco and Cava. Those wines are still less expensive than ours, however.
Let’s say, just for the sake of discussion that you would like the benefits of enjoying a wine with bubbles but you want to do so on a bit of a budget. First of all, in this category, don’t drop your price point too far into the single digits. These wines are expensive to produce and if there is a very low price on the bottle that interests you, then likely there will be a parallel drop-off in the ingredients’ quality.
That being said, how about “masking” the compromises of lower quality coupled with lower price with some other ingredients? Cocktails made with sparkling wines or Champagne are terrific, and certainly at this time of year, delicious with the added attribute of being easy to make.
For these recipes, make your own taste and economic choices. You may substitute Sparkling Wine, Cava or Prosecco whenever Champagne is noted in the recipe.
John Besh, in his Big Easy Christmas article, 2007, sings the praises of a Champagne Mojito.
- 3/4 cup sugar*
- 3/4 cup water*
- 1 1/2 cups packed mint leaves, plus 12 mint sprigs, for garnish
- 6 limes, cut into wedges
- 2 cups light rum
- Cracked ice
- 3 cups Champagne or sparkling wine
- *In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water and cook over high heat just until the sugar has dissolved. Let cool to room temperature. *This is simple syrup, used in many cocktails
- In a large pitcher, combine the sugar syrup with the mint leaves and lime wedges and muddle well with a wooden spoon. Add the rum and stir well. Strain the drink into another pitcher.
- Fill tall glasses with cracked ice and pour in the drink, filling them about two-thirds full. Top with Champagne, garnish with the mint sprigs and serve.
- If you wish to plan ahead, the mojitos can be prepared through Step 2. Refrigerate the mojitos in the pitcher overnight.
Cork County Bubbles, from mixologist John Coltharp, takes the better of two cultures, France and Ireland. Fun!
- 1 ounce Jameson 12 year old Irish whiskey
- 1/4 ounce yellow Chartreuse
- 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon honey mixed with 1/2 teaspoon warm water
- 1 ounce chilled Champagne
- 1 lemon twist, preferably spiral-cut, for garnish
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add all of the remaining ingredients except the Champagne and garnish and shake well. Strain into a chilled flute, stir in the Champagne and garnish with the twist.
Eric Alperin puts forth this English play on a French favorite, Kir Royale.
The Southside Royale
- 2 ounces gin
- 3/4 ounce simple syrup*
- 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
- Sprig of mint
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the gin, simple syrup and lime juice. Shake until chilled, and then strain into a flute. Top with Champagne and garnish with the sprig of mint.
Kathy Casey continues the theme of producing really fast-made drinks that allow the bubbles to star.
- 1 1/2 ounces vodka
- 1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur
- 1/2 ounce Lillet Blanc
- 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 ounce brut Champagne
- 1 brandied or maraschino cherry, for garnish
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the vodka, liqueur, Lillet and lemon juice; shake well. Strain into a chilled martini glass or flute and stir in the Champagne. Garnish with the cherry.
Nothing, but nothing, is any easier to make than the
Classic Champagne Cocktail
- 1 sugar cube
- Angostura bitters
- Sparkling wine
- Lemon twist for garnish
Put sugar cube in a Champagne glass. Lightly sprinkle the sugar cube with Angostura bitters and pour in enough sparkling wine to fill the glass. Garnish with a lemon twist before serving.
A Word of Warning to the Wise (there, I’ve gotten in the alliteration and that is now out of my system): be careful of sweetness levels. Nothing is worse than a very sweet, unbalanced drink and some of these can go that way in a hurry. Always use Brut grade Sparkling Wine, Cava, Prosecco, and Champagne. And initially only use about half the sugar suggested in these recipes. You can always add more sugar. You cannot remove any.
All recipes are courtesy Food & Wine publications.
Happy New Year! Happy Carnival!