The Case for Making Cocktails ‘Royale’ with Sparkling Wine
Whether you’re testing new recipes or upgrading the classics, here are bartender-approved tricks for balancing your drink with a bit of bubbly.
When it comes to sparkling wine, a little goes a long way—in most life situations, but especially when it comes to making cocktails. And while there is no shortage of bonafide bubbly classics worth trying (yes, even the mimosa), there are plenty more ways to use sparkling wine behind the bar.
Add Champagne, Prosecco, or even Spanish Cava to almost any cocktail to make it “royale,” and give it an elegant, effervescent twist on the original. Need to lengthen a bittersweet Negroni? Add sparkling wine for an easy-drinking Negroni Royale. Want to brighten up an Aviation? A splash of sparkling wine gives it a festive French 75 vibe.
As we head into fall entertaining season, with—gasp—the holiday season on the horizon, it's as good a time as ever to brush up on the best ways to add bubbly to your beverages. So we asked some of America’s top bartenders why they love adding sparkling wine to their drinks—and how to do it right. Here's their advice:
For the most part, use a dry wine with a strong, fine bubble.
“I like smaller bubbles for adding to cocktails because I enjoy the effervescent quality they bring,” says Nicky Beyries, bar manager at San Francisco’s Foreign Cinema. “But most important is that it doesn’t go flat when it mixes in with the drink.” For her sparkling cocktails, Beyries uses Anna de Codorníu Cava, an affordable Spanish sparkling wine with a finer perlage. “‘Royale’ cocktails are a place where you don’t need to use an expensive wine. Just because it’s luxurious doesn’t mean it needs to be expensive,” she says.
Choose a base cocktail with a strong flavor and viscous texture.
Sparkling wine can help loosen up cocktails that employ thick fruit purees and syrups, and soften those that skew a bit bitter. “You want your base-cocktail to be just too tart or bitter to drink on its own,” explains Michael Neff of Houston’s Cottonmouth Club. “Sparkling wine would very loosely qualify in the category of a sweetener, albeit a very light and subtle one. It both dilutes the bigger flavors and counteracts the acid and bitter notes in a base cocktail.”
Try swapping sparkling wine in for soda water or seltzer.
“Champagne is a great addition to almost any cocktail—it even works well as a substitution for sparkling water or soda,” says Bobby Eldridge, East Coast bar director for Broken Shaker. “For example, a mojito with dark rum and Champagne instead of soda is an Old Cuban and it’s delicious!”
Add the wine last (and use a bar spoon).
Evan Charest, owner of new Los Angeles wine bar Severance, says to “make sure sparkling wine is added as the final ingredient, or for punches, just before serving.” He also suggests pouring the sparkling wine over the rounded side of a bar spoon to “retain as much carbonation as possible.”
With these tips in mind, try making your own royale cocktails. Here's a classic to get you started:
Try a Negroni Royale
The Broken Shaker’s Bobby Eldridge stirs up a sparkling wine-topped Negroni that also trades sweet vermouth for port wine, for balance. “My Negroni Royale is unique as its bitterness is lengthened by the Champagne, but the sweetness from the port wine helps maintain the balance,” Eldridge says.
1 part gin
1 part Campari
1 part port wine
Top with sparkling wine
Instructions: Combine ingredients in mixing glass and stir with ice. Strain up into a chilled coupe glass. Top with Champagne and garnish with an expressed lemon peel.