Spirits Feature, Cocktail Recipe

Sparkling Cocktails
Quality bubbles make all the difference

Spritzers and sparkling cocktails are go-to drinks for summer, and Prosecco is typically the sparkler of choice: Not only is the price gentler than that of most other sparkling wines, many drinks depend on its slightly sweet, lemony flavors and foamy bubbles.

Rarely, however, does much thought go into the quality of those bubbles; many bartenders would admit the sparkling they use behind the bar was chosen by price, or in a deal with a distributor. After all, the thought goes, who will know the difference when it’s being used as a mixer?

Plenty will, we think, after having gathered ten top-notch bottlings, mixed them up in three classic sparkling cocktails, and presented them to a panel of drinks experts from around NYC. All the Proseccos came recommended by our wine-tasting panels and run less than $20 retail. The differences were startling: Some turned a cocktail cloyingly sweet, or sent the alcohol soaring; others married seamlessly, creating a cocktail that felt elegant, lifted and complex. Here are the standouts.

Champagne Cocktail

Although the name calls for a more expensive version of sparkling wine, this drink also works well with Prosecco. The ingredients are simple—just sparkling wine poured over a bitters-soaked sugar cube and garnished with a lemon peel—so the quality of the Prosecco is paramount. The wine is the driver here, and the more complexity and structure it has, the better: That way, the bitters and lemon simply season the Prosecco, drawing out its floral, saline details. The lighter and drier, the better, as well: With the added sugar in the drink, it doesn’t need the sweetness of an Extra Dry.

Top mixers:
Bisol Prosecco Brut Jeio, $16, Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, CA
Adriano Adami Prosecco Treviso Brut Garbel, $15, Dalla Terra, Napa, CA

Recipe:
1 sugar cube
Angostura bitters
4 ounces Prosecco
1 strip lemon peel

Douse the sugar cube with 4 to 5 dashes of bitters, then place it into the bottom of a flute. Fill with the Prosecco. Spritz the lemon peel over the top of the glass and drop it in.

Aperol Spritz

“In an Aperol Spritz, it definitely should be Prosecco or else it’s not the same drink,” said Ellie Bufkin, a bartender at CUT Wolfgang Puck in New York City, and one of our panelists for this tasting. While it’s a ubiquitous drink these days, it also turns out to be hard to get right. Once we added the Aperol and soda water to our Proseccos, we had a lineup that ranged from too alcoholic to too soft and sweet; one took an unfortunate turn toward circus peanuts. The most successful Proseccos were those that were drier in style, lighter in body and had flavors that didn’t echo the citrus tones of the Aperol, but brightened them. The Casalini was in our top two, with its limey flavor lifting the soft citrus notes of the Aperol, while Belposto’s notes of fleshy pear and white flowers gave the drink an orange blossom quality.

Top mixers:
Casalini Prosecco Treviso Brut, $15, Tradizione Imports, NY
Belposto Prosecco Extra Dry, $15, Prestige Beverage Group, Mendota Heights, MN

Recipe:
2 ounces Aperol
1 ounce soda water
3 ounces Prosecco

Add the ingredients one at a time to a wineglass. Add ice and stir to combine. Garnish with an orange slice or peel, if desired.

French 75

This is a staple on menus that focus on classics, a common request and a crowd-pleasing dealer’s choice. With its gin base, lemon high notes and simple-syrup sweetener, this drink was tough on Proseccos. We used Cathouse Gin, from All Points Distillery in Newark, New Jersey, for our base—a 92-proof, juniper-forward bottling—and simple syrup made with cane sugar in a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water. When we hit on the right Prosecco in the drink, it spoke to the cocktail’s popularity: Nuanced, juicy, savory and tart, it hits all the major pleasure points. When it didn’t, it wasn’t fun. Some pointers: Lower-alcohol Proseccos help keep the heat of the gin at bay; a little sweetness is also a plus, as the drink is already full of citric and herbal flavors. The winner in our lineup was made with Piccini Extra Dry. At only 11 percent alcohol, with ripe yellow apple flavors and a saline earthiness, it brought the drink to another level.

Top mixer: Piccini Prosecco Extra Dry, $17, Foley Family Artisan Imports & Spirits, Healdsburg, CA

Recipe:
1½ ounces gin
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
¾ ounce simple syrup
Prosecco

Add the gin, lemon juice and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker. Shake with ice, strain into a coupe and top up with Prosecco.

photos by Aaron Zebrook; Aperol Spritz photo by Vivian Ho

This feature appears in the print edition of the August 2018.
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