Mimosas are a celebration in a glass. Pairing sweet orange juice with bubbles makes any occasion feel festive.
When we put Prosecco into orange juice, we are riffing on the classic Bellini cocktail. Developed by Giuseppe Cipriani at the world-famous Harry’s Bar in Venice, and named for the color used in a painting by 15th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini, the Bellini combines white peach puree with sparkling wine. Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles were fans.
From these illustrious origins we got the Mimosa, though details of its evolution are scarce. Was it developed in 1920’s London at the Buck’s Club, where it was known as Bucks Fizz? Was it named by Frank Meier bartender at Hotel Ritz in Paris during the same decade? According to The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, director Alfred Hitchcock introduced San Franciscans to the Mimosa in 1940s. Could that be it?
Regardless of which origin story you choose to believe, the fact remains that sparkling cocktails are now a mainstay of brunch programs nationwide. As popular as these bubbly drinks are, though, they often mask the delicate flavors and crisp mouthfeel of their signature wine: Prosecco.
Prosecco is made from the Glera grape, which grows exclusively in the northeast of Italy, straddling the Veneto and Friuli. It’s mostly produced in the Charmat method: Instead of acquiring bubbles via in-bottle second fermentation, the wine is placed in a pressurized, stainless steel tank. This method was developed by an Italian, and then tweaked and patented by Eugene Charmat— hence the Gallic-sounding name.
The result is a sparkling wine with a purpose. Making wine in the Charmat method allows for an expertly made product that is more affordable than other bubbles. (This is, of course, good news for the consumer.) Anthony Pieri of Crimson Wines waxes poetic about Prosecco, particularly of its potential for pairing with food. “Bright, straightforward, with flavors of apple and pear plus persistent mousse, sprightly acidity, and a refreshing finish are why we should drink it before a meal,” Pieri says. “Especially if that meal is fatty, like prosciutto and melon.” Crimson Wines is a wine sales, consulting, and education group based in Napa, Cal.
Personally, I couldn’t agree more. For ten years I had an Italian wine bar in NYC; any time a table wasn’t sure what they wanted to eat, a server would suggest a glass of Prosecco and they lit up. It’s the perfect aperitif, any time of day. Its heightened perception of acidity and bright fruit awakens the palate, readying it for a meal, and lasting through antipasti.
Prosecco, sparkling in a glass and unadorned by juice, is also rich in cultural tradition. In Venice it is a proudly regional expression.
“if you travel to Venice and drink [Prosecco] in its original cultural context, in a crowded bar to wash down plate after plate of delicious cicchetti, the experience is inherently meaningful,” wine writer Zachary Sussman says. “It made me appreciate the wine in a whole new light.”
By treating Prosecco like wine, instead of a cocktail mixer, we can really tap into the potential of carefully-made, centuries-old Italian sparklers. Sommeliers, wine shop owners, and other connoisseurs across the United States are exploring the nuances of the Glera grape. In addition to Carruthers’ favorite, Pasqua Romeo et Juliette, names like Nino Franco and Merotto grace the shelves of wine shops nationwide. Most are below the $20 price point, but deliver the clean, crisp, refreshing qualities of a wine that sings on the palate and enlivens any occasion.
Sounds like a party to us.