An expert’s 8 tips to make brilliant sparkling cocktails for New Year’s
New Year’s Eve is just days away, which means you’ll likely be stocking up on bottles of bubbly.
So before you just fill a Champagne flute and call it a day — er, night — consider sparkling cocktails, either for New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, or really any time of the year. Andy Myers, the wine director at Kohanaiki on the Big Island of Hawaii, reaches for a bottle of Prosecco every first day of January. He fills a rocks glass with ice, then adds equal measures of Italian lemon soda (he prefers the Whole Foods brand) and Prosecco, and finishes the drink with a float of Fernet Branca.
“That gets me in all sorts of trouble on New Year’s Day,” he says. “The Fernet float it what sells it. Trust me; it’s money.”
If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea — er, wine — don’t worry. We asked Myers for his advice mixing up a slew of different sparkling cocktails. So read on and then get mixing. Cheers!
Cava or Prosecco?
If you’re wondering if there’s much difference between two sparkling wines from the same country, there is. When it comes to Italy’s offerings in the category, choosing one over the other is a matter of taste. And by that, we mean flavor. “If you’re making something a little bit sweeter in style, like a Mimosa, for example, I would use Prosecco,” Myers advises. “I find Prosecco to be a little bit rounder, a little sweeter, and a little softer in style. If you’re making something that has a little more brightness, a little more acidity, like a French 75 or an Aperol Spritz, that’s why I go to Cava. Cava has more complexity.”
When to Use Champagne
Now that you know when you should select Cava over Prosecco, you’re probably wondering when you should pop the cork on a bottle of Champagne to make sparkling cocktails. Never. At least, that’s Myers’ stance, and he adores Champagne. “Given my love of Champagne, I always think, ‘Why would I mix it with anything?’” he says. In other words, Champagne is the top-shelf cocktail ingredient that should remain on the top shelf. “Don’t waste great Champagne in a cocktail,” Myers implores. “Frankly, it’s a little bit rude.”
Better Isn’t Always Better
In most cocktail-making scenarios, better ingredients lead to better drinks. Not so with sparkling cocktails, at least as the wine is concerned. “The magic of a great cocktail is there’s a seamless blend between the elements,” says Myers. “The flavors all meld into one, nice, almost indiscernible package. It becomes something greater than the sum of its parts. And with a sparking cocktail it should become the same thing.” However, high-quality sparkling wines are defined by more robust flavors that, in a cocktail, stand out more than they should. “I don’t think you’re going to get a better cocktail by using a better sparkling wine,” he says. “You would taste the wine so much more; and to me, if your goal is to taste the wine, then just drink the wine.”
Keep It Simple
Complicated cocktails might be delicious, but they can also be stressful. The wrong measure of one ingredient can throw the entire drink out of whack — and there’s no saving the concoction at that point. Sparkling cocktails shouldn’t venture into that territory. “Sparkling cocktails are way more forgiving because they’re usually not 12-ingredient cocktails,” Myers acknowledges. “They’re two or three ingredients. So you can always add a little more of one of those ingredients to balance it out if you need to.”
Break Out the Dusty Bottles
The best part about making sparkling cocktails? Versatility. You can lengthen drinks into riffs on a highball, substituting sparkling wine for the soda water or seltzer. With that approach, Myers thinks sparkling Palomas are a lot of fun. But he also advocates messing around with seldom-used liqueurs that many people likely already own. “This is where some of those fun liqueurs that gather dust in the back of everybody’s liquor cabinet come in,” he says. “Any of those sweetened liqueurs, your triple secs and blue curacaos and Midori melon and Chambord — all that stuff that you bought for that one party you had … when you used three ounces of it — this is the time to break that out. Sparkling wine and sweet, thick liqueurs are wonderful together.”
Less Can Be More — and More Fun
When making sparkling cocktails, especially utilizing Myers’ aforementioned advice about experimenting with those sweet liqueurs, a little can go a long way. “You don’t have to make or serve full cocktails, you can do little pops of them,” he says. “Do fun little shots, like a quarter ounce of Chambord and two ounces of sparkling wine. Boom! You’re done. And put them in the freezer for 20 minutes before you serve them to people. Those are ways to play with these cocktails rather than getting too serious.”
You may be inclined to first mix the spirits and modifiers of a sparkling cocktail and then top it off with the wine — in fact, plenty of recipes instruct this construction method. But Myers recommends a different sequence of events. “I always like to pour the sparkling wine into the glass first, build the cocktail on it, and then add the ice,” he says. “The action of adding the ice will actually bring the sparkling texture up into the cocktail and everything will be integrated. But if you use a float of sparkling wine, your first sip is just going to be sparkling wine.”
And Just Have Fun
While you always want the drinks that you make and serve to be excellent, keep in mind that there will be swings and misses. At the end of the day, it’s all about having fun. “Don’t overthink any of this,” Myers instructs. “Just open up a bottle of something with bubbles in it and play around. Some of your cocktails are gonna suck. Some are gonna be awesome. And I assure you, the better they are, the less likely you are to remember what they were, how you made them, or how you can recreate them again. But you’ll talk about them for the next 10 years. So play around, and if the cocktails suck, then just drink the bottle.”
Shaun Tolson is a freelance writer based in Rhode Island. When it comes to golf, he covers everything from architecture, course reviews, and travel, to equipment, gadgets and gear, and feature profiles. As a lifestyle writer, his expertise is rooted in the finer things in life — wine and spirits, luxury automobiles, private aviation, hotels & resorts, fine dining, and more.