Why wait months for some fancy holiday feast held in the gathering gloom of onrushing winter? Summer’s here, the mood is light, and and it's a great time to celebrate by popping open a chilled bottle of good bubbly — regardless of the occasion.
Sparkling wines epitomize elegance and luxury, insouciance and romance. For summer-food pairings, their versatility is nothing short of amazing. The list starts with oysters and Champagne and stretches out endlessly to include almost any kind of seafood and so many other summer favorites. Sparklers with a balance of bright acidity and sweeter fruit can partner a green salad, an insalata caprese, pastas with fresh-tomato sauces, or thin-crust gourmet pizzas. A Cava with your tapas, a Prosecco with your antipasto misto and you’re transported to Spain or Italy in a nanosecond. And isn’t there just something about those thousands of tiny, delightfully pricklish bubbles that sucks the gravitas right out of the air?
Happily, when it comes to sparklers, the East End packs a formidable one-two punch: A cohort of cosmopolitan oenophiles demands world-class wines, and our cool maritime climate, akin to that of northern France, encourages Champagne-style creations. Of Long Island’s nearly 60 wineries, at least a dozen are turning out sparkling wines to rival their top European counterparts.
From a wine geek’s perspective, sparklers are a technical feat. Made from numerous grape varieties, they represent a tremendously wide range of styles. Drier sparklers from cooler regions, categorized as Brut or Extra Brut — think Spanish Cavas and nonvintage Champagnes — tend to be more citrusy and acidic; they offer leaner, more floral notes. Brut or extra-dry Franciacortas and Proseccos, the pride of Italy, are still light and dry but more fruity and floral. Less dry Proseccos and Moscato d’Astis are more perfumed and redolent of tropical fruits. Reserve Cavas, along with vintage Champagnes, offer creamier, richer profiles. With extra aging, fine Champagnes and their equivalents often develop nutty, earthy, even mushroomy flavors.
Michael Cinque of Amagansett Wines & Spirits is a big fan of sparkling wines year round. Cinque has also been riding the rosé wave for more than 25 summers to the tune of carrying more than 50 selections in that category lately. “I love to talk somebody into a sparkling rosé,” he says. “It’s fun: ‘You work hard, you gotta enjoy life, so throw a few pink bubbles in there.’ We do quite a bit of catering, and I always tell our hosts, ‘Don’t even ask, just meet your guests at the door and hand them a glass of sparkling rosé.’ You become instantly cool.”
Among intriguing foreigners, Cinque suggests a Brut Rosé Champagne from Billecart-Salmon or a Spanish Brut Rosé Cava from Llopart. Staying local, the pink sparklers from Croteaux Vineyards, Southold, or Macari Vineyards, Mattituck, are good bets.
Champagne is made by the famous méthode champenoise, with its secondary bottle fermentation supplying the bubbles; most of Long Island’s sparkling wine producers employ it. Leading the pack is Sparkling Pointe, Southold, courtesy of winemaker Gilles Martin, who earned an entire chapter in Eileen Duffy’s book Behind the Bottle: The Rise of Wine on Long Island (Cider Mill Press). Other East End masters of the méthode are Eric Fry of Lenz Winery, Peconic; Roman Roth of Wölffer Estate, Sagaponack, and Onabay, the Anderson family’s operation in Southold.
True to his French pedigree, Jacques Franey of Domaine Franey Wines & Spirits, East Hampton, is partial to Champagnes from some of the emerging smaller houses: “It’s exciting for the consumer now because we have a huge array of wines and much more reasonable prices. The nonvintage cuvées are extremely good — aromatic and mineral-driven, long on the palate. I’m a fan.”
Vinnie Rom, veteran bartender at the American Hotel, is the man behind the Rouge 75.
On the Italian front, Franey steers customers toward Franciacortas. Locally, he’s partial to Wölffer Estate’s “Cool as Well” Brut Blanc de Blanc and its “Noblesse Oblige” Extra Brut Sparkling Rosé. At the lower price points, he gives the nod to the Cavas from Bohiga and Raventos and the full lineup of Champagne types from Gruet in Albuquerque, N.M. (Its website offers a delicious array of cocktail recipes: gruetwinery.com/cocktail-recipes.)
At Channing Daughters in Bridgehampton, Christopher Tracy, known for pushing the envelope, added pét-nat wines to his repertory, releasing them for the first time in 2014. Short for pétillant naturel (“naturally sparkling”), they’re an ancient throwback and burgeoning trend made by the so-called ancestral method, whereby wines are bottled before completing their initial fermentation.
At 8 to 11 percent, pét-nats are lower in alcohol than Champagne, less carbonated, tend to be fruitier and, as Tracy puts it, “more playfully aromatic.” In other words, the perfect beach or brunch libation. “They’re a rustic cousin to Champagne,” says Tracy, “really joyous, definitely not as severe or serious as traditional-method sparkling wines. If you could imagine a mixture of a Prosecco, a Moscato, and a Cava, you’d be in pét-nat land.”
Kyle Fengler mixing up a toast to happy days at the Bridgehampton Inn. The best cocktails for this time of year center around fresh, seasonal fruit; peaches and raspberries in July, blackberries in August.
When it comes to sparkling drinks for the good times of summer, there’s nothing wrong with staying “trad” and ordering a kir royale or bellini (which has umpteen variations involving mango, orange, rhubarb, strawberry, and more). Vinnie Rom, a veteran bartender at Sag Harbor’s American Hotel, serves plenty of Champagne and St.-Germain cocktails; when asked to “surprise me,” he offered a Rouge 75, featuring muddled raspberries. At Nick and Toni’s, the old-school Champagne cocktail is morphed into a Chanel No. 6 by subbing Brut Prosecco. Kyle Fengler, a Hamptons native and ace mixologist, shared his recipe for a drink he christened “Mouth of Ghosts.” Below is my home adaptation. For the real deal — and to find out where he got the name — pull up a stool at the Bridgehampton Inn where you’ll find Kyle behind the bar.
1 ½ oz. fine Cognac, such as Remy Martin 1738
1 oz. raspberry purée (see below)
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
dash of bitters
1 ½ oz. Palmer Sparkling Brut (or equivalent)
For purée, combine equal parts fresh or frozen raspberries and simple syrup; add a pinch of ground cinnamon or allspice and whir in a blender until smooth. Shake all ingredients except the sparkling wine in a cocktail shaker; strain into a Champagne flute or cocktail glass, top with the sparkling wine, garnish with a twist of lemon and serve.
3 parts dry Prosecco
2 parts Aperol
splash of club soda
Serve in a large tumbler or balloon glass over ice, garnish with a slice of orange.
CHANEL NO. 6
2 parts Prosecco
1 part fresh peach purée
dash of raspberry juice or purée (optional)
Purée peach in blender or food processor. Pour into Champagne flute, slowly pour Prosecco on top, and stir gently to combine. Add raspberry juice/purée, if using.
Photo, top: At Nick and Toni's, Kevin Grillo morphs an old-school Champagne cocktail into a Chanel No. 6 by subbing Brut Prosecco.