Toast 2006 With New Champagne Cocktails -- And Sparkling Wine to Suit Any Budget

(Photos by Renee Comet/Styled by Lisa Cherkasky)
By Candy Sagon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 28, 2005

As champagne drinking territory, the Washington area ranks 11th in the nation. It is undoubtedly helped along by the fact that bartenders at many of the hippest bars and lounges have been using champagne as a mixer to create fruity, fizzy cocktails.

The classic (and classy) champagne cocktail -- a staple at 2941 Restaurant in Falls Church, says veteran bartender Joe Armenti -- is a flute of bubbly revved up with a sugar cube soaked in bitters. But bartenders (or mixologists, as they like to be called) are branching out from there, using flavored vodka, fruit juice, sour mix and even tequila to create signature drinks.

Champagne and sparkling wine sales, which plummeted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, are fizzing again. The Wine Institute, a trade group, reports that 30 million gallons of sparkling wine were sold last year, and this year looks on track to be even better.

For the 52 weeks ending Nov. 19, Americans spent $611 million on sparkling wine, according to the newest figures from AC Nielsen, compared with $572 million for the same period last year.

At both IndeBleu and Topaz in Washington, the favored color for champagne cocktails is blue. IndeBleu bartender Tim Stover combines champagne with a splash of Blue Curacao and Grand Marnier to create the Bleu Sky. At Topaz, the signature Blue Nirvana cocktail has a citrus twist, thanks to flavored vodka and sour mix.

Degrees bar in Georgetown goes the red route with some cranberry juice and a whiff of Grand Marnier. At Zengo in Chinatown, the margarita gets turned on its head with some raspberry puree and a float of champagne. And at Poste Moderne Brasserie in the Penn Quarter, bartender Gina Chersevani keeps her guests healthy with champagne mixed with blueberry pomegranate juice.

Obviously, if you have shelled out $50, $100 or more for a fine bottle of French champagne, we're not going to recommend that you add a dash of fruit juice or liqueur.

But if you've chosen one of the perfectly pleasant $8 to $12 sparklers available this year (see "Good Mixers," at right), you might consider jazzing it up with a splash of color and citrus.

Champagne Cocktail

Makes 1 serving

Veteran bartender Joe Armenti at 2941 Restaurant in Falls Church doesn't fool around. He likes the classic version of this drink.

Place 1 sugar cube soaked with 3 drops Angostura bitters in a flute and add champagne (be careful -- it will foam).

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