What Kind of Sparkling Wine Makes a Good Mimosa?

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Brant Foehl
Which of these bottles should you drink at 9 o'clock in the morning? "All" is not the proper answer.
Like many a San Franciscan on a slightly fuzzy morning, I love a nice morning drink to clear the haze or put a bounce in my step. The three standard breakfast drink choices: Bloody Marys, Screwdrivers, and Mimosas. Perfecting the first is an art, the second could be made by a moderately intelligent chimpanzee, and the third is continuously disheartening. How can something so basic as a two-part drink continually let me down?

The issue I usually have is that I cannot taste the Champagne. A good friend, who doesn't believe that restaurants put real Champagne into most Mimosas, orders a glass of Champagne alongside a glass of orange juice, then mixes her own. Her theory led me to concoct an experiment, if drinking copious amounts of mimosas can be labeled scientific. On a Wednesday morning, three of my trusty bar partners and I set out to answer a question: Does it matter what kind of Champagne (or sparkling wine) is used in a Mimosa?

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Brant Foehl
Consider these test tubes.
For the experiment I procured four different sparkling wines ranging in style, country of origin, and price. The four sparkling wines we used are all widely available in San Francisco: J. Laurens Brut, a French Champagne ($16); J Winery Cuvée, a California sparkler ($25); Bellusi Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine ($14); and Andres Brut (a staggering $5).

We had a fifth party label the glasses and "blind" them so none of the tasters had any idea which sparkling wine was in which glass. After evenly distributing the orange juice among the flutes we began drinking...I mean experimenting. We went to separate corners of the room, took notes, then reconvened. Amazingly, all four of us chose the same sparkling wine for the best Mimosa and same wine for the worst:

1. Ranking number one was the French Champagne, the J. Laurens Brut. We all felt that its heaviness cut through the acidity in the orange juice. The Mimosa was easily distinguishable as an alcoholic beverage, and the bready tones of the champagne gave the drink body and richness.

2. Tying for second place were the J Cuvee and the Bellusi Prosecco, but but since it's my article I'm going to give the edge to the prosecco. Its moderate acids meant that the orange juice overpowered the wine, but we thought the prosecco coalesced well with the orange juice to produce an even, drinkable Mimosa. If I were to make one at home I would probably use less orange juice and more wine.

3. The J Cuvee was a citrus bomb bursting with bubbles and bright floral tones, and the Mimosa made with it tasted the most similar to the Mimosas I have been served in bars. Not bad, but not great. 

4. All four us loathed the Andres mimosa. Not a single one of us could tell the difference between the Mimosa and a normal glass of orange juice. It produced zero impression on us and ranked dead last in everyone's rankings.

The result of the tasting? Price doesn't necessarily determine the quality of a Mimosa -- but it does matter. We ranked the $25 J third out of four wines and the $5 Andres last. What seems to matter more than price is the heaviness of the sparkling wine. Any wine with a more classic "yeasty" flavors will break through the acid in the orange juice and produce a more satisfying drink.

So the findings of the study? A proper Mimosa requires one part moderately priced French Champagne, one part orange juice, and one part good friends to fill you in on the inane things you did the night before.

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