A Sparkling Toast

Make your holiday season memorable with three recipes for bubbly cocktails and tips for throwing the perfect shindig.

The holiday season comes with plenty of opportunities for toasting and celebratory drinks. with each clinking of the glasses, however, comes the dilemma on what to raise: Champagne or cocktail? But you don’t have to choose for festivities this year, get the best of both worlds by making a cocktail with sparkling wine.

Below are three recipes for super easy cocktails that make good use of sparkling wine. Classic cocktail fans will appreciate a well-made French 75, which became a signature drink of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris in the early 1900s. For some tropical flair, the rum-based airmail makes a good choice for a laid-back gathering. And for a trendier crowd, Negroni Sbagliato, a riff on the of-the-moment Negroni, will make a striking addition to any party.

When choosing a sparkling wine, be sure to pay attention to sugar levels. Most cocktail recipes are written with dry sparkling wine in mind, so if you choose something sweet (usually marked “demisec,” “sec” or “doux”), make a trial cocktail before serving to guests to test the sweetness level, and adjust if necessary.

Holiday Cocktail at The Culinary Institute of America.

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Peeling citrus loops and chopping fruit garnishes before the party makes more time for merrymaking (photo courtesy The Culinary Institute of America, enthusiasts.ciachef.edu).

One thing to keep in mind: When it comes to making cocktails for a party, the last thing you want to do is be stuck playing bartender all night as you painstakingly make individual cocktails. With some advance prep work, though, your job can be easy.

Think about what you can do ahead of time. Make your simple syrup or honey syrup in large batches and put them in the refrigerator to chill. Arrange your cocktail-making area with enough room for plenty of glasses and a container for ice. Fresh citrus juice squeezed to order is the gold standard of bartending, but for a party, juicing in advance is perfectly acceptable, and will shave some time off the timer. And for super speedy drinking making? Consider making garnishes such as citrus peels in advance.

For hands-off entertaining that doubles as party entertainment, consider putting the ingredients for the cocktail out on a station, writing the recipe on a display card and letting guests mix up their own drinks. Just remember to keep an eye on ingredient levels throughout the party (so nothing runs out).


Beware: This classic cocktail takes its name from a gun used in World War I, and is thought to be homage to its potential lethalness. Though gin is the popular base spirit in contemporary cocktail culture, cognac is more traditional. Consider having both at the ready so guests can choose for themselves.

Serves 1

2 ounces cognac or gin

1/2 ounce lemon juice

1/4 ounce simple syrup (1:1; sugar: water)

3 ounces sparkling wine (preferably dry Champagne)

Add first three ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe or flute glass, and top with sparkling wine. Garnish with a lengthy, curled peel of lemon. Note: Use a channel knife to create the perfect long, loopy lemon peel.


This recipe takes the template for a basic rum sour, but makes it better with sparkling wine. The honey syrup adds a warmer texture to the drink, but if you don’t have honey, regular simple syrup, made with white sugar, will do.

Serves 1

1 1/2 ounces golden rum

3/4 ounce lime juice

Scant 3/4 ounce honey syrup (2:1; honey: water; see note)

Champagne (or any dry sparkling wine)

Add rum, lime juice and honey syrup to a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain over ice into a Collins glass. Top with Champagne and add a straw. Garnish with a lime or orange twist.

Note: To make honey syrup, combine two-parts honey with one-part hot water in a jar or bowl. Shake or stir to dissolve.


Upgrade your basic Negroni by swapping the gin for sparkling wine. Fun fact: Sbagliato means “incorrect,” in Italian, but this drink is anything but. Bonus: This simple cocktail is made in the serving glass, so it couldn’t be easier for a party.

Serves 1

1 ounce Campari

1 ounce sweet vermouth Prosecco (or any dry sparkling wine)

In a rocks or lowball glass, add Campari, sweet vermouth and ice. Top with prosecco or sparkling wine, and stir gently to combine. Garnish with an orange peel.

Recipes reprinted with permission from The Essential Bar Book, by Jennifer Fiedler, copyright 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House LLC.

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