Prosecco Party: Getting Bubbly With Francesco Zonin

Francesco Zonin is the president of the US branch of his family's Italian wine cooperative. He stopped in San Francisco during a whirlwind tour of the US last week.


Francesco Zonin is at a loss for words.

Dressed in a dark bespoke suit crafted by a tailor in Naples, the president of Zonin USA is  friendly but reserved, with the bemused air of  someone who has been very fortunate in life. During a tasting with friends and writers (including BrokeAss Gourmet Gabi Moskowitz and Morgan First of Second Glass/Wine Riot) on the patio of Colosseo in North Beach, the model-handsome scion of one of the most important wine families in Italy seems like he’s used to being master of his universe.

Yet, when I ask him why Prosecco has gotten so popular, Zonin gives that Italian “non lo so” shrug.

“We’ve been trying to figure that out over the past few days,” he says, sipping a glass of their flagship wine. “The answer is we really don’t know.”

“Prosecco is gaining market share from other sparkling wines in Italy,” Zonin says.  “And sparkling wine sales are growing in the US.”

If it seems like prosecco is everywhere lately, it’s not your imagination; prosecco sales in the US grew by 50 percent in 2011, according to the Champagne Category Report. It’s estimated that prosecco is on place to outsell Champagne for the first time ever in the U. S.

Prosecco 1821 is the flagship wine for Casa Vinicola Zonin.

“We have an idea that depending on the style of wine it’s made with a grape that’s lightly aromatic. It’s between brut and extra dry, so it’s refreshing and as with any Italian wine, it is a perfect match with a lot of food.”

He was right about that. Our hosts at Colosseo put out a spread of prosciutto, dry white cheese, salami followed by a first course of fritto misto. The 1821 Prosecco — Zonin’s flagship wine — paired beautifully with all of these foods, gently cutting through the fattiness while lifting the flavors.

This sparkling wine made in Northern Italy is so appealing because it’s easy to drink, without the strong carbonic acid burn that you get while drinking other sparkling wines.

While we call both the wine and the grape prosecco, it;s actually made from the glera grape. While it’s made in a number of places in Northern Italy, like Friuli, the best prosecco comes from around the towns of Conegliano and Valdobiaddene. I believe so many people enjoy prosecco for the same reason they’ve taken to wines like pinot grigio and gruner veltliner: It’s refreshing, uncomplicated and affordable.

Zonin says Italians are discovering the same thing, and rather than treating prosecco as an aperitif, they’re drinking it more than ever, too.

“We needed an excuse to drink it before, but the interesting thing is in Italy, people are starting to have sparkling wine more often,” he says. “The phenomenon (to drink prosecco) during lunch or during dinner is recent.”

Prosecco is also my favorite mixing bubbly of all time; its softer green apple and pear flavors don’t compete with other elements in a drink. In a vintage Bubbly Girl post called La Dolce Vita, I shared five prosecco cocktail recipes using everything from strawberries and limoncello to lavender and honeydew melon. And if you haven’t tried it yet, the Lilikoi Batida, a creamy passion fruit cocktail from the Four Seasons Maui Resort at Wailea, is crazy-good.

The fashion for cocktails made with prosecco makes Zonin smile; the family is the supplier to the Cipriani restaurant Harry’s Bar in Venice, which made the Bellini popular.

Since white peaches are in season, check out this post on Maria’s Good Things, for an easy recipe from the chefs of Zazu Restaurant for Bellini sorbet with sparkling wine.



Pimm’s Cup 3 Ways: Sparkling, Updated & Classic Recipes

The refreshing Pimm's Royale at Bubble Lounge in San Francisco features the British cocktail mixer Pimm's No. 1 and champagne.

I’ve been ignoring all the back-to-school sales and mentally trying to turn this into an endless summer. Sadly, the weather is making it quite apparent that autumn is on its way.

But I’ve been savoring some flavors of summer this month. While I never made it to a tennis or polo match this summer, I did indulge in the classic English summer drink at The Bubble Lounge SF: The Pimm’s Cup.

The Pimm’s Cup cocktail has a rather convoluted history – even for the drinking world – where so many tales are fuzzy because the people telling them are slightly fuzzy-headed.

We do know it was created in 1823 by a man named James Pimm who ran the popular Oyster Bar in London, according to the official site, fetchingly named Anyone For Pimms. The custom was slurping oysters and slugging back London dry gin, which was a bracing 90-proof spirit that didn’t necessarily enhance the flavors of the bivalve.

Mr. Pimm created a cocktail called Pimm’s Cup No. 1 that diluted the gin with citrus fruits, aromatic spices and water, making it a much more food-friendly tipple. Plus, I imagine he was happy his patrons weren’t getting smashed quite so quickly. His Pimm’s Cup No. 1 became fashionable, and Pimm created a few more versions of his drink with brandy and Scotch and rum, that were later bottled for sale.

Only the gin-based Pimm’s No. 1 endures and it’s featured in eponymous cocktails that might also be mixed with lemonade, ginger ale, ginger beer and an ambrosial selection of fruits including strawberry, lemon, lime, apples and cucumber (yes, cucumber is a fruit.)

This season, Bubble Lounge San Francisco in Jackson Square is featuring the Pimm’s Cup No. 1 a couple different ways. Their signature is the Pimm’s Royale, that’s livened up by champagne. They were kind enough to share the recipe:

Pimm’s Royale

1-1/2 ounces Pimm’s No. 1
juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 ounce ginger ale
6 inch ribbon of cucumber, for garnish
2 to 3 ounces champagne
slice fresh strawberry, for garnish
sprig of fresh mint, for garnish

In a tall Collins style glass, add the Pimm’s, lime juice and ginger ale and stir. Slide the cucumber down the side of the glass, then fill the glass 3/4 with ice. Top with the champagne, then garnish with the strawberry slice and the mint.
Makes 1 cocktail

Eileen's Pimm's Cup with ginger beer and additional gin, is a more potent version of the original Pimm's Cup No. 1.

As I was enjoying the Pimm’s Royale, Eileen, a Bubble Lounge bartenders, suggested I try her updated version of the classic Pimm’s Cup.

Eileen’s Pimm’s Cup

3/4 ounce simple syrup
3-inch slice cucumber
2 sprigs of fresh mint
1 ounce Pimm’s No. 1
1 ounce gin
1 ounce lemon juice
1 ounce ginger beer

In a sturdy rocks glass, muddle the simple syrup, cucumber and 1 sprig mint until fragrant. Add the Pimm’s, gin and lemon juice and stir. Fill the glass with ice, stir again then top with the ginger beer. Garnish with the remaining mint.
Makes 1 cocktail

For the classic recipe , listen in to National Public Radio’s Michele Norris doing a fun interview on Pimm’s Cup history with the catering direcot at Wimbledon, where Pimm’s No. 1 is the unofficial beverage.

Celebrate Repeal Day with a Pisco Punch

pisco punch at quinceThis time of year, most people’s holiday-related thoughts are consumed by Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve. But today, the holiday most serious bartenders and cocktail geeks are celebrating is Repeal Day. December 5, 1933 marked the end of Prohibition, the ill-conceived “Noble Experiment” with temperance that ran from 1919 to 1933.

Repeal Day events are going on tonight at classically-minded bars like The Drawing Room in Chicago. In northern California, check out the party at Elixir in the Mission. In Southern California, head to downtown LA to Seven Grand, The Edison and/or The Varnish.

Before Prohibition, a delicious golden cocktail called the Pisco Punch was the San Francisco treat – sorry Rice-a-Roni. According to David Wondrich’s fine historical cocktail book “Imbibe”, all the bars in town made the this tangy cocktail with the Peruvian grape brandy. Many patrons were prone to over-enjoying Pisco Punch; things got so bad that in 1856, police mandated that people could be served just one of the cocktails per day.
Continue reading “Celebrate Repeal Day with a Pisco Punch”

Cocktails to Crave: The Old Cuban

This delicious Old Cuban was mixed at Rye, by co-owner Jon Gasparini.
This delicious Old Cuban was mixed at Rye, by co-owner Jon Gasparini.

After doing a little event for a group of women attorneys at The Bubble Lounge last week, I went out for drinks with Heather and Marie, a pair of new foodie friends.

As we scanned the menu at a hip vintage style watering hole in the Financial District, Heather was disappointed that the Old Cuban – her favorite new drink – wasn’t on the menu. I told her to ask for one anyway. It’s my new favorite too and a modern classic that any bartender worth his salt knows how to make.

Apparently not. The waiter brought over two pale cocktails that looked like mojitos. Close – since the Old Cuban is a variant of the mojito. Both are made with lime, mint, simple syrup and benefit from a good golden or dark rum with some age, like Zaya, Smith & Cross or El Dorado 12.

But what makes an Old Cuban really fine and so appealing is the Angostura bitters. A proper Old Cuban – as created by the brilliant Audrey Saunders at Pegu Club in New York – has a few dashes of Angostura bitters in the mix.

I’ve read that some bartenders are making their version of an Old Cuban sans Angostura bitters. An Old Cuban without bitters isn’t an Old Cuban, it’s a Hemingway Mojito, which gets finished with a slug of champagne instead of club soda. Plus, it’s a huge mistake in terms of flavor.

Angostura bitters are made in Trinidad from a secret blend of roots and herbs.
Angostura bitters are made in Trinidad from a secret blend of roots and herbs.

Bitters aren’t a garnish here, like they are atop the foam on a Pisco Sour. In an Old Cuban, Angostura bitters make the cocktail. Bitters turn the drink the desired shade of reddish brown – think of an Old Cuban cigar. And they also bring the drink’s flavors into sharp focus while imparting a mysterious, complex quality that makes an Old Cuban so beguiling. And since Angostura bitters were originally created as a digestive aid, I can’t think of any better way to begin a meal.

One can find a good Old Cuban in the Bay Area at Rye in the Tenderloin, Miss Pearl’s Jam House (ask for Al) in Oakland’s Jack London Square and Beretta in the Mission.

But since not much tastes better – especially in winter – than a fine cocktail from your home bar, here’s the recipe:

Old Cuban
5 fresh mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 to 3/4 ounces simple syrup
1-1/2 ounces tasty rum
2 to 3 dashes Angostura bitters
2 ounces brut cava or champagne

Muddle the mint leaves, lime juice and simple syrup in the bottom of a mixing glass or cocktail shaker. Add the rum, bitters and ice and shake until well-chilled. Strain into a smallish footed cocktail glass or vintage champagne coupe and top with the sparkling wine or champagne. Garnish with the mint sprig. Repeat.

Champagne & Tears: Drink a Black Velvet for St. Patrick’s Day

The Black Velvet starts with a stout beer, or in other words a Guinness. (Courtesy photo)
The Black Velvet starts with a stout beer, or in other words, a Guinness. (Courtesy photo)

I was at a little dinner party recently for someone who ambivalent about marking yet another birthday past 50. “It’s champagne or tears at a time like this!” one of the guests with a talent for bon mots rasped.

Champagne and mourning don’t seem to go together; in fact Salvador Dali called champagne and other sparklers the wines of frivolity in his book The Wines of Gala, which is artistic, trippy, insightful and sadly out of print. Yet those two sentiments do share a glass in the unique cocktail known as the Black Velvet.

The Black Velvet, a mix of  bittersweet chocolate-hued Guinness stout and golden champagne is a drink that’s on the menu of most Irish and English pubs, but it doesn’t seem to get much play outside of these outposts of British and Irish culture. But it’s a peculiarly pleasing drink that has a interesting tale attached to it.  And as St. Patrick’s Day approaches, you’ll be wantin’ an alternative to green beer and Irish Car Bombs.

Prince Albert was Queen Victoria's husband, chief advisor and friend. (Courtesy photo)
Prince Albert was Queen Victoria's husband, chief advisor and friend. (Courtesy photo)

Queen Victoria married her handsome second cousin Albert in a ceremony that has set the mold for a story-book wedding. According to an account on Love she wore an unfashionable white dress, a blue sapphire and a wreath of orange blossoms in her hair when they married on Feb. 10, 1840. Rather than being trapped in a dutiful royal marriage, Victoria and Albert were friends who shared a passionate romance and a professional relationship, along with nine children. Ten years after their wedding, Victoria wrote in her diary: “Often I feel surprised at being so loved, and tremble at my great happiness.”

So she was devastated, as were her subjects, when Albert died suddenly in 1861 at age 42. Laughter was forbidden in their home Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, Queen Victoria refused to go out in public for a decade and she wore black for the rest of her life. In this context, it makes sense that someone who ordered champagne would still want to seem like they were mourning, just a little. A sentimental or patriotic bartender at Brook’s Club on St. James Street – a private men’s club in London founded in 1778 that still exists – is credited with mixing some Guinness with champagne.

This feature on explains the intricate steps involved with pouring a perfect Black Velvet (fill a Collins glass halfway with Guinness, top with champagne and stir.) Other methods, like this one described on The Greasy Spoon ,have you float the champagne over the back of a spoon, so you end of with a bi-colored drink. Either way, since you’ve probably mastered pouring by now, skip right down to David Wondrich’s historical dramatization of the moment when this drink was created back in 1861.

The Black Velvet is also known as a Bismark because German chancellor named Otto von Bismark supposedly loved the combination. If you’re on a bit of budget, there’s no shame in skipping the champagne and mixing your Guinness with hard apple or pear cider to make a Poor Man’s Black Velvet. It’s the thought that counts.
Original Black Velvet Drink on FoodistaOriginal Black Velvet Drink

The Bubbly Girl Drink of the Week: The Aviation

The original Aviation cocktail included a violet liqueur which turns it a celestial shade of blue. (Photo by Maria Hunt)
The original Aviation cocktail included a violet liqueur which turns it a celestial shade of blue. (Photo by Maria Hunt)

Aviation has been on my mind. Both the kind that you sip and the kind that involves checking in and taking off your shoes.  I guess that’s probably because I’m getting ready to travel to my hometown Chicago for Bubbly Bar book parties on October 1, 2 and 3.

But Chicago was also the first place I tasted the Aviation. It was on an election night – that momentous election night of 2008 – visit to The Drawing Room in the Gold Coast area. Scanning cleverly written menu, I spotted an Aviation, which included gin, maraschino and violet liqueur – I was in.

Since it was a quiet night, head mixologist Charles Joly brought the custom-made bar cart to the table and started making our drinks. As he worked, he told the story of the Aviation. I’d never understood why the clear combination of gin, maraschino and lemon labeled an Aviation on most menus warranted such a lofty name. But Joly explained that the original version of the drink – created just as commercial flight was becoming popular – included the liqueur Creme de Violette which stained it a pale blue. With the violet liqueur, an Aviation matches the color of the wild blue yonder.

Charles Joly, head mixologist of the Drawing Room, explained the story behind the Aviation cocktail. (Photo by Maria Hunt)
Charles Joly, head mixologist of the Drawing Room, explained the story behind the Aviation cocktail. (Photo by Maria Hunt)

I had another Aviation recently at a tasting by Preiss Imports, a rather low key San Diego spirit importer with a screaming good portfolio of 500 liqueurs and spirits. Two of their imports include the Italian cherry liqueur Luxardo Maraschino and Parfait Amour, a perfectly lovely French spirit created from violets.

No matter which violet liqueur you choose, a properly made Aviation has a fresh, bracing and fragrant flavor that takes you on a tasty journey.

2 ounces dry gin
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Luxardo Maraschino
1/4 ounce violet liqueur
lemon zest, for garnish

Add the gin, lemon juice, maraschino and violet liqueur to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until well chilled, about 30 times. Strain into a cocktail glass like a vintage champagne coupe if you have one. Garnish with the lemon zest.

Celebrate Bastille Day with a Kir Royale!

The Bastille is a famous monument to freedom in Paris with the golden Spirit of Liberty statue perched atop an inscribed column. (Photo by Maria C. Hunt)
The Bastille is a famous monument to freedom in Paris with the golden Spirit of Liberty statue perched atop an inscribed column. (Photo by Maria C. Hunt)

Quel horreur! Francophile that I am, the Bubbly Girl has been so busy today that she nearly forgot the significance of July 14. I might have forgotton completely if not for this timely wine lifestyle missive called The Daily Sip from Bottlenotes.  Today is Bastille Day, the day when French people celebrate independence. I was just in France in May for a champagne story in Champagne and stayed near the Bastille.

Of course, I also made sure to have a Kir Royale, a blend of the black currant liqueur creme de cassis and champagne, which is one of my favorite classic champagne cocktails. The drink has  story behind it too; as I detail in The Bubbly Bar, my champagne and sparkling wine cocktail book that’s being released on Aug. 25. It was named after Felix Kir, the mayor of Dijon, France who played an important role in the French Resistance. To make your own Kir Royale, add a tablespoon of creme de cassis to a glass of cold brut champagne or sparkling wine. Twist a strip of lemon peel over the glass – this is important! – and drop it in.


I cannot believe I paid 12 euro for this teensy tiny Kir Royale at a cafe near the Louvre Museum. I savored every drop. (Photo by Maria C. Hunt)
I cannot believe I paid 12 euro for this teensy tiny Kir Royale at a cafe near the Louvre Museum. I savored every drop. (Photo by Maria C. Hunt)

Bubbly Girl Drink of the Week: Champagne Julep

A splash of champagne adds a tony note to the classic Mint Julep.
A splash of champagne adds a tony note to the classic Mint Julep. Photo by Paul Body

I discovered this recipe for the Champagne Julep while poring over the historic drink book called 173 Pre-Prohibition Cocktails. It’s based on a circa 1917 book called The Ideal Bartender, written by Tom Bullock, an African American bartender who was well-known around St. Louis and Chicago for his Claret Punches, Free Love Cocktails and juleps of all sorts. Bullock was one of the first celebrity mixologists and definitely the first African American one. George Herbert Walker (as in the 41st president’s grandpa) was one of his devoted patrons and so was beer baron August Busch.

Bullock’s julep became part of a scandalous national libel case, when former president Teddy Roosevelt sued a newspaper editor for calling him a drunk unfit to hold another public office. Roosevelt testified under oath that he had only had two alcoholic drinks in his entire life, including a few sips of one of Bullock’s juleps.

Newspaper editorials didn’t buy it, writing that the only part of the drink Roosevelt probably left behind was the ice, the mint and the metal cup. The jury did though, and Teddy won his libel suit.

Champagne Julep

Makes 1 cocktail

8 fresh mint leaves

2 teaspoons sugar

1 ounce brandy

4 ounces champagne

sprig of mint, for garnish

Bruise the mint leaves by rolling them between your fingers. Add the sugar, bruised mint leaves, and brandy to a rocks glass. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Fill the glass three-quarters full with crushed ice. Pour on the champagne. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Drink of the Week: The Japanese 75

The Japanese 75 offers an Asian twist on the classic champagne cocktail French 75.
The Japanese 75 at Alchemy in South Park offers an Asian twist on the classic champagne cocktail the French 75.

When the work week is finally over, what better way to unwind than with a cocktail?!? In honor of Fridays, I’m starting a new Bubbly Girl feature called Drink of the Week that will soon be archived on my web site The Bubbly Girl.

This week’s cocktail is The Japanese 75, an Asian riff on the classic champagne cocktail The French 75, which stars gin and sour. Frankie Thaheld, who makes super inventive and delicious drinks at George’s at the Cove in La Jolla, created the Japanese 75 for the new South Park neighborhood restaurant called Alchemy.

Frankie’s drink is tart-sweet and fragrant with Plymouth gin; it gets its tang from yuzu juice. In case you hadn’t heard of it,  the yuzu is a fragrant Japanese citrus fruit that’s intensely sour. The juice is available at nearly any Asian market or on; a little bit goes a long way and it also makes a tasty lemonade.

The Japanese 75

1/2 oz. Yuzu Juice
1 oz. Plymouth Gin
1/2 oz. simple syrup
Dry Sparkling Wine

Shake first three ingredients with ice and strain into a champagne flute.  Fill with sparkling wine and drop in a maraschino cherry.

From Mixologist Frankie Thaheld of George’s at the Cove

Mai Tai Monday at Trader Vic’s Part 2

So here’s the full recipe for the Old Style Dry Mai Tai that bartender Lance Krack mixes at Trader Vic’s in the Beverly Hilton.

Besides 2.5 shots of Myers Dark Rum, Krack added a surprise float of Lemon Hart 151 Rum at the end. The Lemon Hart is a smoky and molasses-rich demarara rum that comes from Guyana. In the late 1700s, Mr. Lemon Hart became the first official rum supplier to the British Navy.

For a great discussion of the demarara rum in general and Lemon Hart in particularMai Tai Monday at Trader Vic\’s Part 2, check out this post by Trader Tiki.

Old Style Dry Mai Tai
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Mix
2.5 ounces dark rum
float Lemon Hart 151 Rum
1 chunk pineapple
1 maraschino cherry with stem removed
sprig fresh mint

Add lime juice, Mai Tai Mix and dark rum to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until well chilled. Pour into a rocks class with crushed ice. Drizzle Lemon Hart 151 rum over the top of the drink. Garnish with a cocktail pick with a chunk of pineapple and a stemless maraschino cherry. Add a sprig of mint and serve.

Grilling Beef Cho Cho at your table is part of the fun of visiting Trader Vic's.
Grilling Beef Cho Cho at your table is part of the fun of visiting Trader Vic's.