In his last piece for just-drinks.com on bar management, Robert Plotkin looks at the wine category and how it can add a sparkle to your drinks menu.

Champagne has a nearly universal appeal. Perhaps no other product enjoys such a sterling reputation for outstanding quality. It is also the one wine that may be appropriately served any time of day, with any meal, and about any type of food.

It's unlikely that when Dom Perignon discovered the process of making Champagne he had any idea his sparkling wine would spawn such a fabulous array of sensational cocktails. Champagne-based drinks are synonymous with celebrations and special occasions. So exceptional are these cocktails that they have the capacity of making any night something memorable. The new breed of Champagne libations is among the latest trends sweeping the US.

Like their famous predecessors, classics such as the FRENCH 75 and RITZ FIZZ, these spirited libations possess all the necessary components for popular longevity. Eye appeal alone qualifies them as bona fide works of art. It's their luscious flavour, though, that makes them masterpieces.

These cocktails are light, effervescent and exceptionally delicious. With the advent of the reusable bottle-stopper that keeps Champagne carbonated overnight, you can pour Champagne by the glass without being concerned that the unused portion will go flat and be wasted.

Champagne is an incomparable mixer. It marries with about every type of fruit juice or puree imaginable. Best known is the 1920's creation, the MIMOSA, the famed combination of orange juice and Champagne. Since its inception, others have followed, including the BELLINI (peach puree), POINSETTIA (cranberry juice), PUCCINI (tangerine juice), MOON WALK (grapefruit juice), PIZZETTI (orange and grapefruit juice), JERSEY JACK (apple juice), BIKINI (passion fruit syrup), RUDDY MIMOSA (orange and cranberry juice), and CHAMPAGNE HAWAIIAN (pineapple juice).

Not surprisingly, many of the famous Champagne-based drink recipes have their origins in France. The FRENCH 75 is a classic example. Created during World War I by US army officers, it is made with gin, sweet 'n' sour and Champagne. While some prepare a French 75 with Cognac, it is most frequently made with a base of gin. Substitute Bourbon to make a FRENCH 95. The Cognac-based version is a FRENCH 125.

Not all great Champagne-based cocktails have their origins in France. The classic RITZ FIZZ was created at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Boston, and is made with Di Saronno Amaretto, blue Curaçao, sweet 'n' sour, and Champagne. The BLUE TRAIN SPECIAL is an intriguing combination of cognac, pineapple juice, and Champagne. The savory SANTIAGO features Bacardi Select and Myers's Jamaican rums, triple sec, lime juice, sweet 'n' sour, and Champagne.

For a light change of pace, consider sampling the CARIBBEAN CHAMPAGNE, which is made with light rum, creme de banana, and a fill of Champagne. A classic in the making is the DOWN UNDER, featuring Di Saronno Amaretto, sweet 'n' sour, orange juice, and Champagne. Another fabulously flavourful concoction is the WHAT'S YOUR HONEY DEW? It's made with Midori, lemonade and a fill of Champagne. Simple and delectable.

Those askew of the norm may want to consider a LOBOTOMY, a delicious concoction made with Di Saronno Amaretto, Chambord, pineapple juice, and Champagne. Two other specialties to strongly consider are the PACIFIC RIM, which is made with Midori, peach schnapps, orange and cranberry juice, sweet 'n' sour, and Champagne, and the CARIBBEAN CONTESSA, a blend of vodka, Cointreau, cranberry and orange juice.

Champagne is a bona fide treasure with no creative bounds, so accept no bounds on what is possible with this the grandest of sparkling wines.

PRESSED FOR SUCCESS

The popularity of wine borders on phenomenal. Wine remains the most frequently requested alcoholic potable for women, and second only behind beer for men. Well, there's more that you can do to add a creative spark to your wine sales than simply ensuring that the glasses are clean.

For many, the world of wine-based drinks is circumscribed by the KIR, the classic mix of white wine and creme de cassis, the WINE SPRITZER and WINE COOLER. While their popularity endures, they don't exactly engender excitement.

Red wine is a versatile base for mixed drinks. It has a range of flavours that melds easily with scores of other ingredients. There are a number of creative libations that rely on red wine as a base. For instance, the RESTORATION is a refreshing, flavourful mix of dry red wine, brandy, Chambord, and sweet 'n' sour served in a tall, iced glass. Others seek the shelter of a PORT IN A STORM, which features the combination of port, brandy and red wine.

Light, dry and refreshing, white and blush wines are often used as ingredients in mixed drinks. Several prime examples include the CHABLIS CHILLER, a specialty made with vodka, a splash of grenadine and lemon juice, and a fill of white wine. The WINE COBBLER is a savoury blend of white wine, triple sec, orange juice, sweet 'n' sour, and a splash of soda.

THE ULTIMATE SUMMER LIBATION

When you turn up the thermostat and crank up the thirst, few libations are more satisfying than the SANGRIA. It is essentially a punch, an extraordinary blend of red wine, fresh fruit, and an assortment of spirits and liqueurs. So delicious is the sangria that it has evolved into a national treasure of Spain.

There isn't one definitive version of the sangria. It is a drink perfectly suited for individuality and an artisan's touch. Often served in a pitcher, the sangria can also be made in single servings.

This light, thirst-quenching classic is typically made with a moderately priced red wine. The famed wines from the Rioja or Penedes regions of Spain are quite appropriate, as are a California Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition to wine, sangria recipes often include brandy, peach schnapps, Port, or triple sec. Champagne or soda is often added to provide effervescence.

Crush the fruit slightly in sugar before adding it to the mix. This will allow the juices to be released. Letting the sangria steep is advisable so the flavour of the wine, fruit and spirits have time to marry together. If you make the sangria well in advance, add soft fruit, such as pears and strawberries, just before serving to prevent them from getting mushy.

Several variations on the sangria include the NEW WORLD SANGRIA, which features peach schnapps, Champagne and a float of creme de cassis, and the all-too-delicious BERRY NEW SANGRIA, made with raspberry and strawberry puree, and cran-raspberry juice. As mentioned, the sangria is a forgiving concoction, so have fun and experiment. You can't go too far astray.

Wine cocktail recipies

CARIBBEAN CHAMPAGNE
Champagne glass, chilled
3/4 oz. Light Rum
3/4 oz. Creme de Banana
Fill with Champagne
Banana and cherry garnish

CHAMPAGNE FRAMBOISE
Champagne glass, chilled
Fill with Champagne
Float 1/2 oz. Chambord
Lemon twist garnish

CHAMPAGNE JUBILEE
Champagne glass, chilled
1 1/4 oz. Di Saronno Amaretto
2 oz. cranberry juice
Fill with Champagne
Orange twist garnish

DOWN UNDER
Champagne glass, chilled
1 1/4 oz. Di Saronno Amaretto
2 oz. orange juice
2 oz. sweet 'n' sour
Shake and strain
Fill with champagne

DRY ARROYO
Champagne glass, chilled
3/4 oz. Tia Maria
3/4 oz. Chambord
3/4 oz. sweet 'n' sour
1 1/2 oz. orange juice
Shake and strain
Fill with champagne
Orange twist garnish

ED SULLIVAN
House specialty glass, chilled
3/4 oz. Light Rum
3/4 oz. Di Saronno Amaretto
1/3 cup strawberries
1/2 oz. half & half cream
Blend with ice
Fill with Champagne
Strawberry garnish

LOBOTOMY
Presentation shot glass, chilled
1/2 oz. Di Saronno Amaretto
1/2 oz. Chambord Liqueur
1/2 oz. pineapple juice
Shake and strain
Fill with Champagne

NEW ORLEANS JAZZ TIME
House specialty glass, chilled
1 1/2 oz. Light Rum
1/2 oz. Peach Schnapps
1/2 oz. orange juice
Dash Rose's Lime juice
Shake and strain
Fill with Champagne
Orange twist garnish

NEW WORLD SANGRIA
Wine goblet or house specialty glass, ice
5 oz. dry red wine
3/4 oz. Peach Schnapps
3 oz. Brut Champagne
3/4 oz. cranberry juice
1 oz. orange juice
1 1/2 oz. sweet OEn¹ sour
3/4 oz. grenadine
3/4 oz. Rose¹s lime juice
Float 1/2 oz. Creme de Cassis
Lime, lemon, & orange wheels garnish

RITZ FIZZ
Champagne glass, chilled
1 oz. Di Saronno Amaretto
1/2 oz. Blue Curaçao
1 1/2 oz. sweet 'n' sour
Shake and strain
Fill with Champagne
Lemon twist garnish

SANGRIA
Wine glass or goblet, ice
3-4 oz. dry red wine
3/4 oz. Peach Schnapps
1 1/2 oz. orange juice
1 1/2 oz. sweet 'n' sour
3/4 oz. grenadine
3/4 oz. Rose's lime juice
Lime, lemon, and orange wheels garnish

WHAT¹S YOUR HONEY DEW?
Champagne glass, chilled
1 1/4 oz. Midori
3 1/2 oz. lemonade
Shake and strain
Fill with Champagne
Lemon wedge garnish