Come midnight Friday, many revelers will find themselves with a glass of bubbly in hand to toast the beginning of a new year. It seems to me an act more of taste than tastiness. Champagne is regal; it’s sophisticated; it’s symbolic. But, as purely beverage, it’s also a bit bland.
Maybe because I’m used to spicier and more full-bodied red wines, Champagne and its sparkling brethren don’t do a whole lot for me on their own. But if you add just a hint of flavor, it’s a completely different proposition. A splash of Creme de Cassis and you have a magical Kir Royale. A pour of good orange juice means a mimosa isn’t just for Sunday brunch — and good orange juice is the key (my brother once returned from the store bearing a bottle of Sunny Delight, much to our household imbibers’ dismay.) And if you want to get really fancy, peach puree will make your plain sparkling wine into a Bellini.
With that in mind, why not create a decadent sparkling wine bar this New Year’s Eve? It takes more effort than simply opening a bottle of Champagne, but not much. Here’s what you do in a few easy steps …
1. Vary your selection of sparkling wines. Instead of springing for pricey Champagne, look for cheaper alternatives. After all, they’re going to be mixed with other flavors. I have always preferred Italy’s Prosecco in this department. There’s also Asti from Italy, Cava from Spain and many other European possibilities. California sparkling wine is a good alternative to the French classics. Offer a selection so guests can try two or three sparkling wines.
2. Pick out a handful of mixers. Here are some possibilities:
• Creme de Cassis: The traditional pairing in a Kir Royale. This was my official drink for the French trek of my European vacation about a decade back, and I enjoy revisiting those Parisian days by dragging out that rarely used bottle at the back of my shelf of liqueurs.
• Other fruit liqueurs: For a twist on Creme de Cassis, try other French liqueurs such as Framboise (raspberry) or Chambord (black raspberry with a hint of vanilla).
• Good orange juice: If you don’t want to bother with freshly squeezed, go for Naked Juice, Simply Orange or a high-quality equivalent.
• Blood orange juice: Use it with Prosecco and a splash of peach liqueur to make a blood orange bellini; or simply substitute it for the regular orange juice in your mimosa. This is one of my favorites, and the color is striking.
• Peach puree: In the best of circumstances, one would use fresh white peaches to make this Italian classic. But winter drinkers can steal a taste of summer with this alternative: Puree together frozen peaches, a touch of sugar and a squeeze of lemon. I also like to add a splash of peach liqueur to boost the flavor, but that’s optional. Top your puree with Prosecco.
3. Set out some festive glasses — Champagne flutes, saucers and other fun glasses — along with small bites and a pitcher of water so everyone can stay hydrated (I like to add a bit of cucumber and lemon). Let guests mix and match the sparkling wines and mixers for themselves.
Cheers, and a happy new year!