Wine Time: Sparkling Wines for Cocktails

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Back at the end of 2011, when we were writing a lot about Champagne and other sparkling wines for the holidays, reader John wrote us asking for advice on what sparkling wines to use for sparkling wine cocktails.

"Since spirits and lemon juice and bitters mess with the subtleties of Champagne," he noted, "I've been told to use the least expensive sparkling wine that I would drink on its own."

It's good advice.

The fundamental elements of Champagne, like any other wine, are alcohol, acidity, sugar, tannin, and fruit. The moment that you add anything else to wine (like peach juice for a Bellini, for example), you upset that balance. So there's really no point in using an expensive wine -- whether Champagne or any other -- to make a sparkling wine cocktail. It's not going to make the cocktail taste better just because it's expensive.

At the same time, a sparkling wine can impart certain flavors and textures to a sparkling cocktail.

I asked Backstreet Cafè wine director Sean Beck (profiled as "Mixologist of the Month" by Wine Enthusiast, December, 2011) which sparkling wines he likes to use for his cocktail program.

"It depends whether I want the wine to add a sweet component or minerality and acidity," he told me. "If sweet, I'll reach for an inexpensive Prosecco. If it's minerality and acidity, I'll reach for a Crémant from the Loire [Valley, France]."

(Crémant, meaning literally creamy, is a designation used in the Loire and other parts of France where sparkling wines cannot be called Champagne, even if they are produced using the same méthode champenoise employed in the region of Champagne.)

To Sean's excellent advice, I'll add that you also need to consider the texture of the sparkling wine when using it in a cocktail. Certain bottlings of Prosecco, made using the Charmat as opposed to traditional method, can be creamier (like Bisol, for example, one of my favorites) while Cava and Crémant can have finer fizziness. Both types can work well with sparkling wine cocktails. It just depends on the mouthfeel you want.

What's your favorite sparkling wine cocktail and what wine do you use?

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