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Serving Up Sparkling Wine Cocktails

The Bubbly Girl, Maria Hunt, brings us bubbly champagne cocktails and talks about her new book.
The Bubbly Girl, Maria Hunt, brings us bubbly champagne cocktails and talks about her new book.

Serving Up Sparkling Wine Cocktails
Champagne isn't just for special occasions anymore. Food and drink editor Maria Hunt talks about how to make sparkling wine cocktails for any occasion.

ALAN RAY (Host): You’re listening to These Days on KPBS. I’m Alan Ray in for Maureen Cavanaugh. Pink Champagne on ice, house beverage of the “Hotel California.” But there are better bubblies. And for the next few minutes on These Days, we're going to talk about affordable champagnes and sparkling wines, and sparkling wines and summer fruits and champagne cocktails, and we might even find out what’s the difference between champagne and sparkling wine. We’re joined on These Days by Maria Hunt, a local food and beverage editor and the author of “The Bubbly Bar: Champagne and Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion.” Good morning.

MARIA HUNT (Author): Good morning, Alan. How are you?


RAY: I’m doing fine. We’d be pleased if you’d join the conversation, so we’re pleased, at 1-888—at least for the moment—1-888-895-5727, 1-888-895-KPBS. So, everybody has a niche. How did you decide to write a book on champagne and cocktails?

HUNT: Well, I was a food writer for many years, writing at the Union-Tribune, and when you’re going out reviewing restaurants, you start looking at the wine list and talking to sommeliers about food pairings and a lot of times I was impressed that they were telling me that sparkling wine and champagnes are very good matches for food, even though a lot of people don’t realize that. And when I started traveling outside of the country, I would notice people would enjoy sparkling wines, like Prosecco in Northern Italy or a wine called Chocovine in the southern part of France, a lot more often with lots of different foods. It’s just a really fun, casual way to sort of start a meal. So…

RAY: Okay, now you mentioned Prosecco. I’ve been seeing a lot of it and it’s funny, these things seem to go in cycles or something new comes along, you know, Pinot Noir was there for a while, nehh, kind of not so much now. What is Prosecco?

HUNT: Prosecco is a light sparkling wine from the area northeast of Venice and it – that’s the name of the grape, also. It’s the wine that’s used in the cocktail called The Bellini, which is white peach nectar and sparking wine. It’s kind of a sign of summer and late spring in that part of Italy. But it’s a very light sparkling wine. It’s also very affordable. You can find it at Trader Joe’s, BevMo, places like that for even, you know, ten dollars, twelve dollars, eight dollars a bottle. So it’s a great mixer in cocktails. And speaking of which…

RAY: Ohh…


HUNT: …I brought a little something…

RAY: …yes you did.

HUNT: …to get us in a bubbly mood.

RAY: Oh, didn’t you just.

HUNT: So I’m going to pour this. This is the Schramsberg Cremant, which is a sparkling…

RAY: Oh, go easy with it.

HUNT: …wine from Napa.

RAY: I have to go back to work.

HUNT: Okay, me, too. And then I’m…

RAY: Unless that’s yours.

HUNT: …mixing that with some Pama, which is a pomegranate liqueur.

RAY: Oh.

HUNT: And I’m going to garnish it with a couple of fresh pomegranate seeds, so a nice, seasonal…

RAY: It’s just beautiful.

HUNT: …drink.

RAY: Oh, it’s just beautiful.

HUNT: That it seems like…

RAY: Can I have just a nose of the Pama before I try it with the Schramsberg here?

HUNT: Oh, sure.

RAY: Just to see what this is…

HUNT: It smells just like a pomegranate.

RAY: It’s a fascinating concept.

HUNT: And it seems kind of odd to be talking about cocktails at ten in the morning on a Monday.

RAY: (whistles) Boy, that’s very intense pomegranate. That’s very intense.

HUNT: But the holidays will be here very soon, so…

RAY: Okay, so, do you have a little in your glass? Can – should we…

HUNT: Okay, let me pour one for me, too.

RAY: Yeah, do. It’s no good drinking alone.

HUNT: Of course not. Okay. All right.

RAY: Cheers.

HUNT: Cheers.

RAY: (whistles) Oh, my. You can leave that when you leave.

HUNT: Okay.

RAY: That’d be just wonderful.

HUNT: We’ll have to talk about that later.

RAY: Indeed. Talk about – just talk about what it looks like. I mean, this is a remarkable concoct – it’s a very – I want to say this looks like it should be a springtime drink.

HUNT: Well, it seems like maybe from the color, it’s kind of a rosy color of springtime but pomegranates are one of those fruits that are a fall fruit. They’re just coming into season right now. I just pulled this pomegranate off my friend’s tree yesterday. So that’s one of the things I talk about in the book, is using seasonal fruits because you get the best flavor from them, and then combining them with a variety of different sparkling wines, so just mix – to do this cocktail, just about an ounce of pomegranate liqueur and you top it off with whatever sparkling wine you like. As I said, I have the Schramsberg today but you could use Prosecco, you could use some other type of brut sparking wine and then you put a couple of pomegranate seeds in it.

RAY: Now, does it need to be a brut?

HUNT: It doesn’t have to be a brut. This is actually a Cremant…

RAY: Okay.

HUNT: …which is a slightly sweeter style.

RAY: Yeah, okay.

HUNT: Which a lot of people actually do like and it pairs well with a lot of foods especially if you’re eating something spicy.

RAY: You know, I – I…

HUNT: A slightly sweeter style is great to cut – counter that.

RAY: I would think if you went with something a little drier with the pomegranate, you might get even a sense of astringency about it.

HUNT: Umm-hmm. I like that with a brut, too.

RAY: Yeah, okay. All right, 1-888-895-5727, would be the number, 1-888-895-KPBS, if you want to talk about sparkling wines and cocktail recipes and that sort of thing. Historically, champagne has been a term that was restricted to a particular kind of bottled bubbling wine that came from a particular region in France. Is that still the case?

HUNT: That’s true. I mean, it is – Technically, champagne is only from that region that’s northeast of Paris, though a lot of people do refer to any type of wine with bubbles as champagne. But you kind of let people know that you – when you’re out at a restaurant and that you kind of know your way around the menu if you refer to everything else as sparkling wine and just champagne from that region as champagne.

RAY: Okay, is there essentially then a difference between champagne and sparkling wine?

HUNT: Well, champagne is a sparkling wine but not all sparkling wines are champagnes. But what you do find is that even the ones that are made here in California, some of the great wines like by Iron Horse or Domaine Chandon, they are made by the same method that they’re – that’s used in Champagne so basically they’re blending wines together and they’re making a, you know, making that blend, they add in – put it in the bottle, they add a little sugar and yeast, and they cork it. And then that fermentation happens a second time, and so that’s how you get it to be a sparkling wine. That’s called methode champenoise, doing it that way. So that’s considered probably the finest method to use. But Prosecco, for example, Muscato, some of the Italian sparkling wines use a different method that’s meant to preserve the delicate flavors of the grape and also – they’re a little less bubbly.

RAY: Now, I’m wondering, and I don’t want to get too far ahead here but it just occurs to me, is it – would it be possible to make something, say, like a Ramos Fizz with sparkling wine rather than with sloe gin?

HUNT: Definitely. Definitely.

RAY: Would that be good?

HUNT: Yes, you could just sort of pop it off. I mean, that’s the fun thing because originally when cocktails first started becoming popular in the U.S., they said the first improved cocktail was a champagne cocktail which basically they just decided to swap the spirits around in the 1880s for sparkling – for champagne. And so anything they would add, they’d take a normal cocktail and then add champagne to it and they would call it a royale or an imperial.

RAY: Okay. I want to talk about the book. “The Bubbly Bar: Champagne and Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion.” And you have – it’s in hardbound now, too.

HUNT: Yes, and out on August 25th.

RAY: Okay, talk about – a little bit about how you or – you talk about how you decided to do it, how did you organize it?

HUNT: Well, basically, I wanted to start everyone, we were talking about the champagne cocktail, which is the granddaddy and the original cocktail, so I wanted to start off with the classic, things that people would be familiar with like the Bellini from Venice, the French 75, which is a really great cocktail that was created around World War I by American Army officers who were serving in France. And this cocktail was named after a French artillery gun that they were using that was very powerful and smooth. The cocktail shares that trait as well. It’s a mix of gin, brut champagne and a homemade sour mix…

RAY: (whistles)

HUNT: …with a brandy soaked…

RAY: Whoa, yeah.

HUNT: …cherry in the bottom. So you…

RAY: Could be lethal, yes…

HUNT: Yes.

RAY: …just like that French 75.

HUNT: So, and then going on to the other drinks like the Champagne Julep, which is actually something that dates back to the early 1900s. It was created by an African-American bartender who worked in St. Louis that had some famous clientele, including Augustus Busch. And instead of using club soda in that, he topped it with champagne.

RAY: How much – Is it reasonable to judge the quality of a bottle of wine or a cham – a sparkling wine or a champagne by its price?

HUNT: In some – in some ways, yes. You would hope that a $100.00 bottle is going to be better than a $10.00 bottle. But I don’t think price has to equate to your enjoyment.

RAY: I’m not really ever going to think I’m going to be looking at the $100.00 bottle but I’m wondering is there really a difference between that $4.50 bottle and, say, the $10.00 bottle? Is that a better cut off?

HUNT: I would say there probably is a difference.

RAY: Yeah.

HUNT: Usually when you’re getting something that’s under $6.00, you’re not going to be using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, which are the classic grapes used in champagne. But if you’re going to be mixing cocktails, like if you’re mixing orange juice with it or sort of a pomegranate liqueur or, you know, muddling strawberries into it, then it’s fine, really, to use something more affordable. As I said, I have a part of the book in the back that is a guide to buying by price. And I have some wines listed there for even under $15.00, even under $10.00 that are easy to find. So it’s not about the money you spend, it’s knowing that sparkling wines are a special type of wine. When people see them open, they get excited. It makes them feel flattered and special, so you can create that mood even if you’re not spending a lot of money.

RAY: All right, I got – I – see if this holds up. I’ve got to try one more time. Whew, boy, that’s good. My. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS. I’m Alan Ray, in for Maureen Cavanaugh. Let’s see how much more of this I can do. We’d be pleased if you’d join us at 1-888-895-5727, 1-888-895-KPBS. And we’re talking with Maria Hunt, the author of a book now in hardbound, “The Bubbly Bar: Champagne and Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion.” Are there – Do you have a favorite cocktail in here? Or is it not like you can really have a favorite child?

HUNT: Well, it’s – Exactly. I was going to use that analogy. But I do have some that I love a lot. And I was looking at the chapter where it’s called “Fruitful Fizz” and so it’s a lot of things with seasonal fruits mixed in. One of the best and one of the simplest to make is a drink called the Tiziano. I first had that at Tra Vigne up in the St. Helena area and it’s something that they mix with Prosecco, which you’d mentioned before, and it’s fresh-pressed grape juice. And so I know we’ve all had bottled grape juice…

RAY: Umm-hmm.

HUNT: …which, you know, has a sort of a sweet, tart taste. But when you take the time to press fresh grapes, it has an amazing – they have an amazingly just really lively flavor. And it’s wonderful with the sparkling wine. And those are something that are in season right now. We think of grapes as, you know, sort of year round but they’re actually a seasonal fruit.

RAY: Talk a little bit about the Gingersnap. This is a fairly modern drink?

HUNT: It is. It’s one in a chapter – I’m trying to find that one. But the sparkling wine that you – I use in it is sparkling sake, which a lot of people may not have tried yet but it’s a spark – it’s made just like regular sake. What they do is, they stop the fermentation a little bit early. Well, they – Basically while the wine is still fermenting, they bottle it. And so then it finishes fermenting in the bottle, which puts bubbles in it, and so you’re mixing this in this cocktail with a little gingerroot that you’re muddling. And have you muddled a cocktail before?

RAY: Well, I’ve been muddled after the cocktail but I’ve not been muddling before the cocktail.

HUNT: Okay, well, muddling is a term that’s kind of gotten to be popular now with everyone liking mojitos. Basically, you’re adding fruit and herbs, usually to a rocks glass and you’re using a tool that has a flat end. It might be made out of wood or metal, and you’re using that to smash the fruit and herbs and release the juices, release those flavorful oils. So with this, you’re mulling gingerroot and a little sour mix, that I teach you how to make in the back of the book, together, and you’re adding ginger liqueur and a sparkling sake. And the garnish is a little bit of candied ginger. And this is one of the cocktails – And we were talking about cocktail and food pairing which is becoming quite popular. This is something that’d be great with any type of a sushi, kind of an Asian food that has that – because it has that nice gingery flavor to it plus sort of that lemon-lime freshness.

RAY: Talk about the pairings a little bit more. I know you mentioned earlier on that you were surprised when you were doing food writing that you would go out and the chefs at these places, the sommeliers, would tell you that, indeed, this sparkling wine would go well with this kind of food. It there the same kind of white or rose distinction that we make between white and red wines and what goes well with each? Or is it just what you like?

HUNT: Well, yes, that’s the first thing that everyone should consider. You shouldn’t drink a wine just because someone else says you should. You should, you know, follow your own palette. But if you follow some sort of guidelines, it will go a little bit better. Usually a brut, a lighter style of sparkling wine is going to be really great with, you know, things like seafood, like shell fish, wonderful, because what you’re doing, that wine like you might normally squeeze a little lemon on that seafood, the wine has a lot of acidity in it, the sparkling wine, so it’s like adding that lemon to it. So it’s heightening the flavor of the seafood, so that’s what you’re really keeping in mind anytime you’re doing a pairing and trying to balance the flavors. So another really fun combination is doing something like, you know, people will sit around and drink potato chips and beer because…

RAY: Umm.

HUNT: …you know, the fizzy sort of beer goes nicely…

RAY: Umm-hmm. Oh, yeah.

HUNT: …with the salty, slightly greasy potato chips.

RAY: Yeah.

HUNT: That’s a fabulous – if you substitute champagne or sparkling wine for that beer, a really great match also, which a lot of people are surprised to find out. Or we were talking about another cocktail in the book. It’s one that mixes brut sparking wine with Grand Marnier, which is an orange liqueur…

RAY: (whistles) Ohh…

HUNT: …and a little bit of Cognac, a vanilla cognac.

RAY: Now that’s going to be very sweet.

HUNT: That’s – No, actually, it’s not with the brut…

RAY: Really?

HUNT: No. The Grand Marnier has a little bit of sweetness but it’s – it just makes it palatable.

RAY: Really?

HUNT: But it’s a rather potent cocktail. It’s called a Stiletto. But with that orange flavor and that acidity, it’s really nice with something like a duck…

RAY: Oh, I could see that.

HUNT: …for its richness, or a pork.

RAY: Oh, yeah, I could hear that, yes.

HUNT: Because if you think about the types of flavors you might use to cook those dishes anyway, and then when you’re having those in a cocktail it’s almost like adding a little bit of a extra sauce to it.

RAY: Oh, you know – you know what would be cool would be to do a pork with an orange reduction or something like that and use this, or even with a raspberry reduction for it. That would…

HUNT: Exactly. That sounds really good.

RAY: Can you talk a little bit about – we talked about brut. There’s, you know, they’re dry, there’s fruity, that sort of thing. Blanc de noir, blanc de blanc, not what are the differences realistically among those things?

HUNT: Those are basically – those are French terms referring to the mix of grapes that are used in the wines. So a blanc de noirs means white from black, so that’s basically they’re crushing a dark-skinned grape, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, classically, and they’re removing that skin after very, you know, much time so that it does – the wine doesn’t get the color. But what you are going to get is some of that richer flavor from it. Where, opposite, a blanc de blanc means white from white so that means you’re using Chardonnay exclusively. So those wines have a real elegance, a real nice crisp acidity to them. They can be beautifully paired with like – something like a parmesan cheese, something like a roasted chicken is really great with a blanc de blanc as well. But most of the wines that you’re going to find in store are going to be a blend.

RAY: Okay, we’re talking with Maria Hunt. Her book is “The Bubbly Bar: Champagne and Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion.” You’re welcome to join the conversation at 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. You mentioned sparkling sake, I’ve never heard of it.

HUNT: Yes.

RAY: Where did that come – Is that something somebody made up or is that…


RAY: …a traditional form of sake?

HUNT: It’s actually been around – As I understand it, it’s been around Japanese – in Japan since the 1940s.

RAY: Really?

HUNT: Umm-hmm.

RAY: Do…

HUNT: And…

RAY: Do you have any idea how they make it that is – makes it different from the way they – because, as I understand, sake is actually brewed rather like beer, is that not correct?

HUNT: It is brewed, and so technically it’s not a sparkling wine but it’s bubbly and it’s something that’s kind of fun and new. So basically, as I was saying, they make the same, you know, the rice mash and then there’s the fermentation process it starts going to. So before it’s finished fermenting, they’ll put it in a bottle and then cork the bottle so it finishes fermenting inside that bottle and that’s what makes it sparkling.

RAY: Okay, now…

HUNT: So there…

RAY: …what sort of foods would you pair – you’d mentioned sushi, is there – are there other things you can think – I mean, tempura for sure, but are there non-Asian foods you could think right off might go with that?

HUNT: I think basically anything that you would put a brut style sparkling wine with. Sparkling sake, there are drier ones, there’s some sweeter ones. I prefer the drier ones. A nice brand you can usually find is the Zipang. And I’ve actually seen Trader Joe’s had their own brand that they were carrying for a while. So, basically, anything that you would put a brut sparkling wine with, a chicken dish. Like I said, seafood is really great, of all styles. Snack foods, really fun chips, and that type of…

RAY: Popcorn.

HUNT: Popcorn…

RAY: Yeah.

HUNT: …is wonderful with sparkling wine.

RAY: A little carmel corn, that’d be good.

HUNT: Umm-hmm.

RAY: Are these all dessert cocktails? I presume not.

HUNT: No. There is a chapter of dessert cocktails at the end, sort of an idea for what you can use with – if you have a little bit of wine left over at the end of the night.

RAY: Okay, I – May I ask, does this – does the Pama have a name?

HUNT: This one’s called the Lava Lamp.

RAY: The Lava Lamp.

HUNT: I’m sorry, I didn’t say that before. But, no, there’s really a range of cocktails though a lot of them do contain different fruit flavors. But there’s some that are more subtle, for example there’s one I did called a Lavender Tea and in the South of France, they have a tradition of mixing tea made from lemon verbena with a local Cremant sparkling wine.

RAY: Oh, my, really?

HUNT: Umm-hmm. So it’s just like a iced tea but just a little, you know, with a little kick to it.

RAY: Really cooling though.

HUNT: Umm-hmm.

RAY: Very refreshing.

HUNT: Very refreshing.

RAY: Yeah.

HUNT: So I love lavender so much and so I have lavender growing in my yard and so I was kind of inspired to try doing a version like that, so I used a lavender tea and mixed it with chilled brut sparkling wine and then a little sour mix, as I – which I teach you how to make in the book. And so it tastes just basically like a nice cool glass of iced tea.

RAY: We had invited you to join us in the conversation. We still do, 1-888-895-5727, 1-888-895-KPBS. Naomi has. Good morning, Naomi in San Diego, you’re on These Days.

NAOMI (Caller, San Diego): Hi. I’m having an Indian New Year party and I was wondering if you could recommend a drink to have with Indian food?

HUNT: Ooh, that’d be fun. Well, as I was saying, Indian food usually – since I don’t know how you’re making it but a lot of times it has a little bit of spice to it? So if you serve a sparkling wine with a little hint of sweetness to it, like a Cremant style or a Deniset, it will actually help to counteract that spiciness and sort of calm, you know, your guests’ mouths down if they get something a little too hot. So it’s – really depends on what flavors you like but there’s some great cocktails. This pomegranate we – one we were talking about would be really good with that as well. I don’t have a Indian one per se but there’s another one that’s fun. It’s a tangerine cocktail that’s actually on the cover of the book. It’s called the Love in the Afternoon, and it’s tangerine juice with a brut sparkling wine and a little rose water and mint.

RAY: Umm, boy.

HUNT: And those are some flavors that sometimes occur in Indian cuisine as well…

RAY: And really elegant.

HUNT: …so you might have those on hand.

RAY: Very elegant.

HUNT: Yes, but the fun thing about those two ingredients, the rose water and mint, they’re both used to cool the body in the summertime.

RAY: Umm-hmm. Cool. All right, back to the telephones. Patrick in La Jolla, good morning. You’re on These Days on KPBS.

PATRICK (Caller, La Jolla): Hello. Was that me?

RAY: That’s you, if you’re Patrick.

PATRICK: My question was about the origin of sparkling wine in France. Was it not Verne or do I have the location correct?

RAY: Hmm…

HUNT: Well, I don’t know if anyone knows exactly where sparkling wine originated but the – some of the first sparkling wines that were documented were in the 1500s in Lemieux, which is a province in the South of France. So it wasn’t up north. We associate it with champagne but actually there were monks – a lot of the wine making was done at that time by – in – you know, by monks and – because they were selling it to make money for the church. And they were making that at the place called Saint Hilaire, is the winery that’s credited with the first recorded instance of making sparkling wine. I guess Dom Perignon, who was a very famous figure in champagne didn’t start until about a hundred years later.

RAY: I think I read somewhere that that actually was a mistake. They didn’t know they had something good on their hands.

HUNT: Right, they didn’t – they didn’t want the bubbles at first because they were making the wine and since in Champagne it’s such a cool climate they would put the wine down and think it had stopped fermenting but it would get so cold that the yeast would go to – basically go dormant. And then in the spring, it would start fermenting again and it would start bubbling and making the bottles burst and they didn’t have these nice smooth wines that they wanted. So basically it was really kind of a marketing thing, they just sort of changed the way that they were viewing these wines as – as opposed to being these possessed devil wines they said, oh, this is kind of fun actually. And it caught on with the royal set and then champagne became a popular thing.

RAY: What local restaurants or are there local restaurants here, bars or bistros, we might go to, off to find some fun sparkling wine cocktails?

HUNT: Yes, actually I was just talking with the guys down at El Dorado, which is downtown on 1030 Broadway, and they have a really fun cocktail called the Queen Bee. And it’s one they do, it has gin, which is a really great spirit for getting your appetite kind of going at the beginning of the meal because of the botanicals in it, a little bit of lemon juice, a little bit of honey syrup, and they finish it off with a float of champagne. So it’s going to be something light, sort of refreshing and then you’ve got that fragrance from the gin and the honey. That’d be awesome with some kind of seafood.

RAY: Now you mentioned gin, gin actually as it turns out – I don’t want to take us too far off the topic but gin is actually fun to cook with.

HUNT: It is.

RAY: You can make some really finely deeply flavored scallops with – scallops with gin, just a touch of butter and red pepper flakes, wow.

HUNT: I’ve had that, gin with – and then a gin cocktail with scallops…

RAY: Exactly.

HUNT: …also is delicious.

RAY: Okay, again, your book is “The Bubbly Bar: Champagne and Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion." Is it out on sale now?

HUNT: Umm-hmm. It’s on sale now. It’s on People can find more information on my website,

RAY: Oh, the bubbly girl. Okay, well, on the way out, thank you.

HUNT: Thank you.

RAY: It’s been a pleasure.

HUNT: Cheers.

RAY: And this is the Lava Lamp.

HUNT: Yes, and hope you have a bubbly day.

RAY: I just got a little more so. Okay, one more time, what’s in the Lava Lamp?

HUNT: It’s Pama pomegranate liqueur, it’s brut sparkling wine, and then pomegranate seeds.

RAY: Been a pleasure. Thank you. That is Maria C. Hunt. Her book is "The Bubbly Bar: Champagne and Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion." And it’s available now. Go to your bookstore. If you don’t see it, ask for it. And, again, your website is…?


RAY: Cool. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS. I’m Alan Ray in for Maureen Cavanaugh.