On the whole, I think 2009 will be remembered as the year of moderation. Nearly everyone is looking for ways to be smarter about how they spend their money. While champagne and sparkling wines seem like a luxury – and they are a luxurious experience — they don’t have to come with a high price tag. One of the most useful features of my book The Bubbly Bar is a guide to buying bubbly in every price range. Since I wrote the book, I’ve continued to discover affordable sparkling wines that are great for sipping alone or in cocktails. Here’s my list of bargain bubbly available nationwide for New Year’s Eve 2010.
I get lots of questions about sparkling wine and champagne at my web site The Bubbly Girl. Some times they’re asking my opinion of a certain wine, or whether it’s alright to drink an old bottle of champagne they’ve been saving – I always say yes to that one; you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised. Other times they want me to help divine the name of a wine they liked from a few flavor clues.
I got one of those questions the other day from a woman who had been served champagne at wedding that tasted just like apple cider. Since champagne is made from grapes and many people are trying to save money at a wedding, it’s very likely what was served as “champagne” at this nuptial was closer to a sparkling cider like Martinelli’s than Moët.
But the question got me thinking about the delicious bright and sweet taste of fresh apple cider made from fall apples. If you have a juicer, try making your own apple juice sometime – it’s nothing like the flat and sugary golden liquid that comes in glass jugs and juice boxes. The closest thing to making your own is getting fresh apple cider in a soft plastic jug.
The season and the cider inspired this cocktail I call Spicy Sparkling Cider, which is a mixture of fresh cider and sparkling wine. I used the Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut, though an extra dry style of bubbly would work if you like a sweeter drink. It’s spiked with Navan, a natural vanilla cognac by Grand Marnier and warm spices like cinnamon, star anise and ginger. Spicy Sparkling Cider is a fun individual drink – we had it before Christmas Eve dinner- but would make a delicious punch as well garnished with whole crab apples bobbing on the surface.
Spicy Sparkling Cider
2 ounces fresh apple cider (don’t use anything from a glass jug)
1.5 ounces Navan Vanilla Cognac
1 sliver cinnamon stick
1 sliver candied ginger
1 star anise (optional)
3 to 4 ounces brut or extra dry sparkling wine, chilled
slice crab apple, cut crosswise to show the star
Add the cold apple cider and Navan to a rocks glass or small stemless wine glass. Add the cinnamon stick, ginger and star anise, if you’re using it to the cider-cognac mixture. Let the spices rest in the cider-cognac mixture for a 5 to 10 minutes to give them time to release their flavor. Top with the sparkling wine, garnish with the apple sliced and serve right away.
By Maria Hunt, author of The Bubbly Bar: Champagne & Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion (Clarkson Potter, $16.99)
Champagne Cocktails are some of the simplest and best drinks for starting off a party. They’re bubbly and the aromatic bitters get your appetite going. And then there’s a hint of sweetness, but not so much that you’re in danger of drinking the whole thing in 2 gulps. Check out this video where I lead you through making a classic Champagne Cocktail, the first drink in my new book The Bubbly Bar.
Once you’ve mastered the basic recipe with Angostura bitters, there’s a world of possibilities for making the Champagne Cocktail more elaborate. For my Los Angeles Bubbly Bar launch party at The Edison, I doused sugar cubes in a variety of flavors including absinthe, Pama pomegranate liqueur and orange bitters. I arranged the pretty tinted cubes in rows on a silver tray and let guests customize their own drinks.
Create champagne cocktails take on a range of flavors with different flavored sugar cubes.
We love champagne and sparkling wine for its tantalizing bubbles, but is there a good way to save those bubbles if you open a bottle and don’t finish it?
Absolutely, according to Julia Child, the woman who brought French cuisine and a taste for champagne to Americans with her cooking show and books. While travelling on the East Coast recently for Bubbly Bar tastings and book signings, I planned the trip so I’d have an extra day in Washington DC. I wanted to make sure to get to visit Julia Child’s kitchen at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
As soon as I walked into the kitchen exhibit, the first thing I heard was Child’s distinctive voice… talking about champagne! A video monitor was set up to play a series of videos on topics including her favorite kitchen gadgets. In this segment, Child pulls a gold champagne stopper off a bottle Dom Perignon. As she demonstrates, the champagne was still bubbly three days later.
I agree that one of the best ways to keep leftover champagne (yes, it does exist) fresh is with a stopper or bouchon in French specifically made for sparkling wines. The grey rubber stoppers that come with a vacuum hand pump are great for still wines, but useless with champagne because the bubbles easily escape.
I’ve been in NYC for a few days of press interviews and book signings to promote The Bubbly Bar. The highlights included taping a Better.TV segment with Audra Lowe that airs later this week, making cocktails for Betsy on Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food with Betsy Karetnick. But in between all the running around, I was lucky enough to be able to steal away to a few of Chef Daniel Boulud’s restaurants that included the fabulous new DBGB Kitchen & Bar where we had the most perfect gourmet burgers and housemade sausages and DB Bistro Moderne, where I enjoyed a a light lunch of an Indian spiced squash soup, Alsatian tart and an Eliot Spitzer sighting.
One element that I found in all three restaurants – besides the amazing food, interesting decor and top-notch service, was the Cuvée Daniel Champagne. It flowed most freely at Restaurant Daniel, where we sipped glasses of the house bubbly along with a series of little morsels including scallops and satiny fluke that were on the appetizer menu. It was elegant and crisp with a richnesss that unfolded around gorgeous streams of tiny bubbles.
Daniel’s champagne is made by Pierre Paillard, a small producer in Bouzy that has specialized in pinot-noir driven wines and champagnes since 1768!
And it turns out, it’s available for purchase from Sherry-Lehman in NYC. This week they’re offering Cuvee Daniel for $45 a bottle; even with cross country shipping it’s a quite affordable way to experience a bit of luxury from one of New York’s top restaurants.