Drinking a flute of bubbly on a romantic night may seem stuffy. Instead mix up one of these delicious and rare cocktails with sparkling wine as a base. Guaranteed to impress.
Take it from a guy who married a French girl: Champagne is the way to a woman’s heart. There’s just something about sparkling wine that’s inherently romantic. Maybe it’s the special glasses. Maybe it’s the tickle of the bubbles. Maybe it’s the way that it turns any occasion into something of a celebration. Whatever the reason, it’s hard to go wrong with a cocktail that features a healthy dose of bubbly.
Sparkling wine, particularly drier varieties, will mix with just about any liquor under the sun … or stars, if you want to stick with the romantic theme. France’s classic Kir Royale, perhaps the most famous Champagne cocktail, is nothing more than an ounce or so of crème de cassis(black currant liqueur) added to the glass before the wine is poured. You can do this same thing with a wide variety of liqueurs, and most will produce something nice, albeit a little one-dimensional. We like extra dimensions here at Primer, so we’re featuring recipes that are a little more complex, subtle, and nuanced.
Whole books have been written on choosing a sparkling wine, so I’m not going to start dropping a ton of names on you here. Good Champagne is almost never going to let you down, but it can hit your wallet hard. Never fear: there are perfectly drinkable Proseccos, Cavas, and California sparklings available at bargain prices. If you can get it in your area, Barefoot Bubbly Extra Dry is a ridiculous value at around ten bucks … it’s superior to many sparkling wines at twice that price. Great for drinking by itself, and fantastic in cocktails.
Why make a Champagne cocktail instead of just drinking the wine? Well, two reasons, really – the first is that putting a little extra effort in is just the kind of thing that can add to the romance. The second is that all six of these recipes are absolutely delicious. Do be careful, however: Champagne with liquor in it is a lot more potent than Champagne by itself. One or two drinks will improve the mood. Three or four will leave you both snoring on the couch.
With that in mind, let’s get to the recipes!
The French 75
The combination of dry, herbal, juniper-heavy gin and toasty, biscuit-y champagne might seem a bit weird at first, but you’re going to have to trust me here: the French 75 is a classic for a reason. Somehow the lemon juice and simple syrup bring everything together to create an enchanting drink that goes down way too easily.
- 2 oz. Gin (I like Tanqueray here)
- 1 oz. Lemon Juice
- 1 tsp. Simple Syrup
- Sparkling Wine
Combine the gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a chilled Champagne glass. Slowly top with sparkling wine until the glass is full. Garnish with a lemon twist.
By the way, when it comes to glassware, I am a fan of coupes as opposed to flutes, especially for cocktails. They’re sturdier, less likely to tip over, easier to garnish, and the traditional wisdom that they let the wine flatten more quickly is only true if you leave it lying around for a lengthy period of time … and why would you do that?
The Seelbach Cocktail
I owe a debt to Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh for this recipe – and for a lot of my cocktail knowledge in general. His book, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, is one of the best recipe books on the planet for drinks, and is absolutely loaded with fascinating history as well. I’ve read it cover-to-cover four times. If I could only recommend one book to a novice mixologist, it would be this one. Go get it! You won’t be disappointed.
- 1 oz. Bourbon (I recommend Russell’s Reserve 10 Year)
- .5 oz. Cointreau (or other Triple Sec)
- 7 dashes Angostura Bitters
- 7 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
- 5 oz. Sparkling Wine
Yes, that’s really 14 dashes of bitters. Believe it or not, it totally works. This cocktail requires a rather large champagne glass (my coupes only hold about 4 ½ ounces). If you’ve got small ones, consider halving the ingredient list, using three dashes of Angostura, and four of Peychaud’s.
Combine the bourbon, Cointreau, and bitters in a chilled Champagne glass and stir. Top, slowly, with chilled sparkling wine. Garnish with an orange twist.
I snagged this one from Jim Meehan’s ridiculously thorough PDT Cocktail Book. A speakeasy off the side of a hotdog joint, which you enter through a hidden door in a phone booth (seriously), PDT is one of New York’s best bars. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting more than once, including a sit-down with Meehan himself where we took a look at the print proof of his book a few months before it came out. This was, for me, like an NFL fan getting to hang out with Peyton Manning or Adrian Peterson. The recipe was originally printed in W.C. Whitfield’s Here’s How, published in 1941.
- 1 oz. White Rum (Meehan recommends Banks 5 Island)
- .5 oz. Lime Juice
- .5 oz. Honey Syrup
- Sparkling Wine
To make honey syrup, mix two parts honey to one part water and simmer over medium heat until thoroughly combined. Cool, bottle, and store in the fridge – it should last a minimum of four months. You can easily double that by adding just a dash of vodka.
To make the cocktail, simply add the rum, lime juice, and honey syrup to a chilled Champagne glass and stir. Add sparkling wine until full, and garnish with a lime wheel.
This is a bit of recycling, as I used this recipe in my very first article for Primer, but it’s still delicious, I’m still proud of it, and it was a collaboration with my wife, which is very much in keeping with the spirit of this article. In the past three years, we’ve changed up the bitters a bit and added a garnish, which brings an additional aromatic element to the party.
- .75 oz. Green Chartreuse
- 1 dash Peychaud’s Bitters
- 1 dash Orange Bitters
- 4 oz. Sparkling Wine
Add Chartreuse and bitters to a chilled champagne glass and stir to combine. Slowly add sparkling wine, stirring very gently. Cut a quarter-sized piece of lemon peel (avoiding as much of the pith as possible) twist it over the drink, and drop it in.
The Velvet Club
This is another recipe from The PDT Cocktail Book, created by Jane Danger in 2008. A variation on the Velvet Glove (created by L.V. Battersby, listed in The Café Royale Cocktail Book – 1937), it replaces club soda with sparkling wine. Note: you can do this with almost anycocktail that calls for club soda, and the result is often an improvement.
- 1 oz. Cognac (The PDT folks like Hine VSOP)
- .5 oz. Lillet Blanc
- .5 oz. White Crème de Cacao (Marie Brizzard makes a good one)
- Sparkling Wine
Stir cognac, Lillet, and crème de cacao with ice. Strain into a chilled Champagne glass. Top with sparkling wine, stirring gently. PDT calls for no garnish, but I think a brandied cherry would work well here.
The French Canadian
This is another invention of mine. It uses Calvados, the famous French apple brandy, which isn’t all that tough to find in the US. Splurging for an XO Calvados that’s been aged for more than a decade really makes this one decadent, but standard VS will work fine and won’t set you back too much. In fact, you can even use Laird’s Applejack, which at fourteen bucks a bottle isn’t going to break anyone’s bank, and still get a very nice drink!
- 1 oz. Calvados
- 1 tsp. Canadian No. 2 Amber Maple Syrup (US: Grade B)
- 1 dash Peychaud’s Bitters
- 1 dash Urban Moonshine Organic Bitters
- Sparkling Wine
Combine all ingredients except wine in a chilled Champagne glass and stir vigorously to ensure that the maple syrup dissolves. Top with champagne and garnish with an apple slice.