When Benedictine monks first crafted Champagne centuries ago, the bubbly beverage became known as "le vin du diable" -- "the devil's wine." The nickname derived from the wine's seemingly enchanted effervescence: Sparkling wine works its magic, either alone or as a crisp ingredient in cocktails.
"Champagne ... makes things light, fluffy in a way," says Rob Ricci, bartender at Park Bruges in Highland Park and distiller for Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka, in Glenshaw. "Sparkling wine makes everything fancy. You can fancy-up NASCAR [events] with sparkling wine."
Ricci knows firsthand how sparkling wine or Champagne -- technically speaking, the moniker applies only to wine from the eponymous French province -- can enhance a drink. Asked to develop a few items for the Park Bruges drink menu, Ricci began tinkering with several cocktails that highlight lemons and vodka. One of those drinks, "Rain in the Park," stuck: 1½ oz. Boyd & Blair vodka; ½ oz. St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur; and ½ oz. fresh lemon juice, topped with Prosecco (a sweet, Italian sparkling wine made primarily from Glera, or "prosecco," grapes).
The citrusy concoction ($10) borrows its name from The Cowsills' 1967 hit "The Rain, the Park, and the Other Things," and it exemplifies a champagne cocktail -- light, crisp and thirst-quenching. St. Germain's "floral notes" and "mouthfeel" complement the vodka and lemon juice, Ricci says, while Prosecco's sweet carbonation cuts tartness and renders each sip "crisp on your tongue." The fresh lemon peel, which Ricci rubs along the rim of the glass, adds a unique bouquet that complements the floral and citrus as well.
Currently, Ricci is developing a new punch for Park Bruges that will call for "probably a whole bottle" of the bubbly. But his favorite sparkling wine is the classic "Champagne Cocktail": a sugar cube (let it dissolve); a dash of bitters, and champagne on top.
If you're looking for a good bottle, Ricci suggests Chandon's Blanc de Noirs (750 ml for $16.99), a California sparkling wine made from red pinot noir grapes.