Sunday, July 18, 2004

Champagne cocktails

Bubbly beverages worthy of everyday summer celebrations

By Thayer Wine
Gannett News Service

If you think champagne is only for celebrations, then it's about time to revise your list of special occasions.

Any day is a good day to treat yourself to a bit of bubbly, and it doesn't have to cost a small fortune. Champagne comes from a particular region in France by the same name where the rules for making it are so strict you can spend a bundle on a bottle, making it less an option for every day. (Technically, if the sparkling wine isn't made in Champagne, no one is allowed to call it "champagne.") If you're lucky enough to find a less expensive French champagne, you might not want to blend it with anything else.

In the summer, though, why not have fun with bubbles that don't break the bank. These sprightly beverages are perfect for a party, even for small occasions - a burger on the patio, first day of a new job or the celebration of a lingering summer sunset.

This is the time to look for some of the less expensive sparkling wines, such as a sparkling Italian prosecco, says Jeff Warzynski, a wine manager at a Tennessee liquor discount store.

"It's made like champagne, but aged in stainless steel tanks, not in the bottle," he says.

Prosecco has more fruit flavor and frothiness, but is on the dry side - good to go with some of the fruits and sweet liqueurs to create a champagne cocktail.

Bartender Mark "Spaz" Morris of Nashville likes to use Chateau Ste. Michelle Cuvee Brut from Washington state when he creates champagne cocktails, which he makes for all kinds of occasions.

"Sometimes people ask me to make them to go with the decor or the color of their shirt," he says.

That's where the blue cocktail made with blue curacao, an orange-flavored liqueur, comes in. He makes the purple kir royale with a splash of Chambord, a black raspberry liqueur or a raspberry liqueur. Cranberry juice makes the "Poinsettia" pink and Sour Apple Schnapps makes a drink green.

Try a twist of lemon swished around the rim of the tall champagne flute. Or cut a small wedge of orange, lime, apple or pear to decorate the glass.

"Don't forget the strawberries," he says. "You can never have too many strawberries with champagne."

Most of the time, Morris serves champagne, sparkling wine or champagne cocktails at lunch or brunch. The cocktails go especially well with lighter lunch fare or with cheese and fruits as an appetizer at a party. Most of the champagne cocktails are served before dinner or with dessert.

"Champagne is kind of overlooked, but is one of the easiest to pair with foods in every course," Warzynski says.

Sometimes, though, a simple, unadulterated glass of classy champagne or one of the sparklings made by the champagne method of fermenting it in the bottle so the bubbles linger longer, is all you need to toast the new moon or the first ripe tomato from the garden.

If you're in the mood for French champagne, but not the prices, here's a tip: Several French champagnes have corresponding vineyards in the United States. Their sparkling wines are made by the same method, producing quality wines but at considerably lower prices.

Some of these wineries include: Domaine Carneros owned by Taittinger, Piper Sonoma owned by Piper Heidsieck; Mumm Cuvee Napa owned by Mumm Cordon Rouge; Roederer Estate owned by Roederer Cristal, and Chandon Brut owned by Moet & Chandon, which makes the noted Dom Perignon. Prices of the French wines range from $29 to $250 while the American counterparts are about $17 to $23.

Even the serious champagne drinker will appreciate a strawberry at the edge of the flute.

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