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Even with physical distancing and other constraints brought about by COVID-19, the return of summer spells an opportunity to enjoy a glass of something light and refreshing on the patio or to toast loved ones during virtual happy hours.
Readers of a certain age may harbour nostalgic notions of white-wine spritzers or other so-called wine coolers, which often blended cold wine with sparkling or soda water, or lemon-lime soda or ginger ale for anyone looking for more sweetness and flavour. But they can just as equally inspire negative 1980s flashbacks of big hair, shoulder pads and garish neon-hued workout ensembles worn as street fashion.
The best wine cocktails, in my opinion, are indeed throwbacks, but to a time well before Linda Evans and Joan Collins of Dynasty fame ruled the airwaves. The two I’m most inclined to sip this summer are classic drinks involving sparkling wine that are stylish, flavourful and easy to prepare. I’d rather spend my time savouring my drink while reading or rapt in conversation than cleaning a blender or ice-cream maker after formulating some fanciful adult slushie.
Based on the traditional kir cocktail, which mixes one part black-currant cream liqueur to three or four parts dry white wine (Bourgogne Aligoté is featured in the classic recipe), a Kir Royale is a refreshing apéritif that calls for a measure of crème de cassis topped with sparkling wine. You can serve it in a flute or white-wine glass garnished with a blackberry.
Usually there’s a suggestion that better ingredients make for a better cocktail, but any inexpensive bottle of cava or crémant will work here. As is the case for mimosa-making, I’d save the good bubbly to enjoy without any extra flavourings. Equally enjoyable variations can be made by trading out crème de cassis for a different fruit-based liqueur or syrup (peach, raspberry and strawberry versions appeal to me). A splash of icewine of any variety – riesling, vidal or cabernet franc – can be an effective replacement as well.
I’ll leave it to historically minded bartenders to debate whether the original recipe for the French 75 cocktail used brandy or gin as a base for a mixture of Champagne, lemon juice and sugar. My introduction was a brandy-based version, which has a pleasingly rich flavour. However, gin strikes me as more seasonally appropriate. Any favourite gin is a safe bet. I’ve recently enjoyed a cocktail made with Whitley Neill Handcrafted Dry Gin from the United Kingdom.
The recipe: Combine 1½ ounces of gin, a ½-ounce of lemon juice and a ½-ounce of simple syrup in a cocktail mixer. Fill with ice, cover, and shake for about 15 seconds. Strain with a cocktail strainer into a flute or white-wine glass and top with a 3 ounces of chilled brut-style traditional-method sparkling wine (Champagne or suitable stand-in, such as cava, crémant or Canadian-made bubbly). Garnish with a peel of lemon or lemon twist, should you be inclined.
If you are feeling adventurous, there’s a world of modern mixology innovations to discover beyond this classic pair, including a berry-accentuated frozen rosé – frosé to those in the know – and a sparkling-wine and strawberry-inspired drink called a smash outlined in the complimentary e-book Fresh + Delicious California Wine Cocktails, produced by California Wine Institute. Who knows, maybe it’s even time to reboot the white-wine spritzer this summer?