Ever wonder why some wines or cocktails make you want to take another sip while others make you grimace and wish you’d ordered something else? Personal preference aside, the difference between a delicious drink and one you can’t stand often comes down to balance.
When mixing cocktails, the challenge is to balance three elements: bitter, sweet and acid. Bitterness comes from hard spirits, while sweetness might come from a fruit juice, a sweet liqueur or syrup. Citrus juice or sparkling wine contribute acidity.
I’ll let you in on a secret I learned when writing my book: If you start with sparkling wine, you don’t have to add very much to create a brilliant cocktail.
Whether it’s Prosecco from Italy, Cava from Spain, Champagne from France — well-made sparkling wines have a natural acidity that makes them a great base for delicious drinks. And I’ll let you in on a secret I learned when writing my book The Bubbly Bar: Champagne & Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion (Clarkson Potter): If you start with sparkling wine, you don’t have to add very much to create a brilliant cocktail.
During wintertime, you’ll find that seasonal fruits like cranberries, pomegranates, grapefruit and tangerines pair beautifully with bubbly in cocktails. For parties, it makes things easier to either a) choose a signature cocktail to serve throughout the evening or b) create an interactive cocktail bar so guests can create their own concoctions.
If you’re hosting a New Year’s Eve party, guests are sure to show up with a bottle of a brut sparkling wine or Champagne in hand. As delicious as this crisp, citrusy sipper can be, after a few hours of drinking the same thing, it can get a bit monotonous.
Set all those bottles of bubbly in a large ice bucket and use them to create a cocktail bar that lets your guests be the mixologists. Your job is to stock the bar with complimentary mixers so guests can’t make a bad drink. Start with some liqueurs like the lemon liqueur called Limoncello, a berry liqueur like Chambord and something slightly exotic like St. Germain elderflower liqueur. Set out carafes of lemonade, tangerine or orange juice and cranberry juice. Fill a relish tray with garnishes like fresh basil and rosemary, raspberries, pomegranate seeds and slices of orange.
To make a super-simple holiday cocktail I call the Lava Lamp, fill a flute one-third with pomegranate juice or pomegranate liqueur. Top it off with brut sparkling wine, toss in a few fresh pomegranate seeds and watch the seeds dance up and down on the bubbles.
In my Green Grapefruit cocktail, juicy pink grapefruit marries with the anise flavors in absinthe to make for a sensational start to a holiday party.
No matter which cocktail you choose, you’ll find that any time you open a bottle of bubbly, it’s like uncorking a celebration.
Maria Hunt is and author of The Bubbly Bar: Champagne & Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion (Clarkson Potter, 2009). For more recipes and information on entertaining with sparkling wine, visit TheBubblyGirl.com.