Chill it, serve it, mix it, pair it, save it. A lesson in Sparkling Wine 101 to help you ring in 2011.
By Kelly A. Magyarics
Even those who aren’t die-hard sparkling wine enthusiasts the rest of the year will most likely grab a bottle or two to toast as the ball drops at midnight. Here are some tips to get the most out of your fizzy flutes:
- Chill it well: Even if you are chomping at the bit for that flute of Moët & Chandon, make sure it’s well chilled before you remove that foil and wire cage and crack it open. If it hasn’t seen the inside of the fridge for at least several hours (or if you just picked it up at the wine shop en route to a party…) the fastest way to cool down a bottle of bubbly is to place it in a bucket filled with ice and water. This will cover the entire bottle’s surface area waaaaay better than ice alone.
- Start the evening with the good stuff: Whether you are having a quiet evening at home, or throwing a huge
festive soirée, serve the most expensive and complex sparkling wine first, including vintage or grower’s Champagne, Crémant, and higher end California sparkling wines like Schramsberg and Iron Horse.) As the evening progresses, then grab less expensive offerings like Cava (I like Segura Viudas Aria Brut, as well as 1+1=3) or Prosecco (Zardetto is a consistently good producer.) Washington state’s Domaine Ste. Michelle’s Blanc de Blancs or Brut is also a steal for $11.
- Open it right: Always uncork a bottle of Champagne by pointing it away from people and anything breakable (over the sink is ideal.) And repeat after me: “turn the bottle, not the cork.” (The opposite can cause the cork to break.) If the cork happens to be stubborn, grab one of those grippy disks used to open jars—a paper or regular towel will do in a pinch, too. And though having the sparkling wine gush out all over the place may look dramatic, you’ll lose much of the coveted effervescence. Save that parlor trick for Indy 500 celebrations, and aim instead for a gentle, quiet popping sound.
- Use the right glassware: Though coupe glasses have been back in fashion as of late, and Riedel now recommends using a regular white wine glass to serve sparkling wine (the rationale being that since bubbly is a serious wine, it deserves a “serious” glass…) But in my opinion, for sheer decadence, enjoyment and aesthetics (it’s so beautifully mesmerizing to watch that trail of bubbles rise up the glass…) nothing beats a flute.
- Mix it up: The right sparkling wine cocktail can elevate your bubbly experience. The Poinsettia is always a crowd pleaser, but I tend to recommend either a classic French 75, or a cocktail that mixes bubbles with bitey, aromatic Domaine de Canton (See recipes below.)
- Nosh accordingly: Wine lovers are finally discovering that bubbly is so food friendly that it works with a wide variety of appetizers and small plates (and everything else, really…) It’s especially tasty with sushi, Asian appetizers and anything fried, like frites, chicken tenders, popcorn shrimp and potato skins. The bubbles serve as palate scrubbers and wash away rich foods–making you want to go back for another bite. If you are throwing a party, set a few bowls around the room of popcorn that’s tossed with a few drops of truffle oil and topped with freshly shaved Parmesan to keep guests nibbling while you prep the rest of the food.
- Consider your non-bubbly drinking guests: Even guests who don’t drink sparkling wine can enjoy some
fizz on the 31st. Mix an easy beer-tail like the Shandy, or a booze-based fizzy libation like a Gin and Tonic or Mojito.
- Save the bubbles: If you don’t plan on serving the entire bottle at once, use a Champagne saver to preserve the bubbles. This is also great if you end up with some leftover wine at the end of the night and want to serve Mimosas for brunch next morning.
Courtesy of Chris Ojeda, SOHO House, Los Angeles, CA
This refreshing blend of Meyer lemon, sparkling water and a lighter style lager is great to sip all night long, and even to toast with at midnight.
1 oz. Meyer lemon juice
1 oz. simple syrup (1:1 ratio of sugar to water, boiled until sugar dissolves and then cooled)
2 oz. sparkling water
Light lager like Stella Artois or Spaten
Fill beer glass halfway with lemon juice, simple syrup and sparkling water. Add a dash of Angostura bitters. Top the rest of the glass with the light lager. Stir gently and serve.
Named for a powerful French 75-millimeter weapon, this is bubbly…with a kick. The addition of gin (I like to use Plymouth, Beefeater 24 or Martin Miller) adds aromatics and potency.
1 ¼ oz. gin
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice
4 oz. chilled Champagne or good quality sparkling wine
Lemon twist, for garnish
Add gin, sugar and lemon juice to a cocktail shaker filled with it. Shake vigorously, and strain into a chilled Champagne flute. Add chilled Champagne and stir gently. Garnish with lemon twist.
Ginger for What Ales You
For the racy, kicky flavor of fresh ginger, Domaine de Canton can’t be matched. Mix up a tray of these fragrant flutes, and serve alongside nigiri and sushi rolls (with lots of pickled ginger, naturally), as guests arrive.
½ oz. Domaine de Canton
3 dashes The Bitter Truth Orange Bitters
Cava or good quality sparkling wine
Crystallized ginger and an orange twist, for garnish
Add Domaine de Canton and bitters to a chilled flute. Top with Champagne or sparkling wine and stir gently. Garnish with ginger and orange twist.
Easy, breezy and a definite crowd favorite. And since the Cointreau and cranberry juice can be batched ahead of time, the Poinsettia is a host’s dream.
½ oz. Cointreau
3 oz. cranberry juice
Champagne or good quality sparkling wine
Lime twist and/or fresh cranberries, for garnish
Chill Cointreau and cranberry juice (can do this ahead of time.) Add to a chilled Champagne flute, top with Champagne or sparkling wine and stir gently. Garnish with lime twist and/or fresh cranberries.
Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, DC area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, and on www.twitter.com/kmagyarics.