Long live the mimosa, the Queen of brunch cocktails

Named for a flower but made with a fruit, the late Prince Consort of Great Britain, Philip Mountbatten, once said of the mimosa, “Champagne and orange juice is a great drink. The orange improves the Champagne, and the Champagne definitely improves the orange.” And as such, the mimosa is the king of brunch drinks.

The advent of Spring typically kicks off the brunch season with Easter and Mother’s Day following close behind. This year’s Easter is almost two weeks later than last year’s, which might be one of the biggest problems with moveable feasts: the math used to arrive at them is both arcane, and ironically, immoveable.

Another irony with the brunch season, and for that royal brunch cocktail too, is that brunch season does not coincide with orange season. Sure, here in the Sunshine State we get used to seeing citrus fruit year around, but the very best part of orange season is late fall and early winter.

I blame it on the orange itself. Oranges as we know them (the most common are the Navel and the Valencia) are actually hybrids of the pomelo and the mandarin. The orange did not originate on its own, in the wild. It is entirely manmade, as are many of the typical citrus fruits which we now eat. Which makes them odd in several respects. First, they flower and fruit at the same time (contradictory reproductive processes) and secondly, many, like the Navel orange, are completely seedless (which is another severely compromised reproductive situation). And don’t get me started on limes, which we have been conditioned to eat unripe (fully ripe limes are yellow, not green). But have hope, because hope springs eternal.

With California’s exceptionally long growing season (it’s not called the Sunshine State for nothing), the beginning of brunch season, while not lining up with orange season, does happen to coincide with the end of tangerine, blood orange, and pink grapefruit season. And if one is looking for a citrus that pairs best with acidic bracingly bubbly wine, these early Spring citrus hangers-on are more than up to the task. Much orange juice these days is made from the more bitter (and less expensive) Navel orange and not the sweeter more expensive Valencia orange. It’s that touch of bitterness in both the bubbly wine, and the fruit juice in it, that only enhances a mimosa’s overall pleasantness. Too sweet, and a mimosa might as well be orange soda. Which is why winter citrus work so well. Tangerines add a bright tang, pink grapefruit adds not only color but an assertive tartness, and blood orange takes both of those two up another notch entirely. Try using fresh pomelo juice in your mimosas and you will be the hippest hipster on the whole brunch block.

Despite a comical assertion on Wikipedia that suggests the mimosa was invented in Spain “centuries ago,” the mimosa is a relatively new drink. At least the way we know it now. Based on the Buck’s Fizz (invented at the London Buck’s Club in 1921) the mimosa is only different in proportions and in glassware. In 1921 the preferred glass for bubbly would have been the coupe, and a Buck’s Fizz’s proportions of 2:1 sparkling wine to orange juice, would shock a modern day mimosa drinker. Less is more, and that is certainly true of citrus juice in this cocktail.

Brunch became most popular across the pond in America, where the repeal of Prohibition, and the winning of a World War fomented an avid interest in day drinking. In the late 1940s director Alfred Hitchcock is said to have taken a shine to the mimosa (in San Francisco of all places), in the 1950s the Duke of Edinburgh made his famous quip, and by the 1960s American football on Sundays would take the idea of brunch (and day drinking) to a whole different level. In fact, some credit the implementation of the flute glass as the primary vessel for bubbly wine specifically to the popularity of the mimosa.

Whatever the case, with whatever citrus and from whatever seasonal angle you come at it from, the mimosa is still the reigning king (or queen) of the brunch cocktails. If it was good enough for the husband of the Queen of England, then it’s probably good enough for you too. Long live the Queen!


3 ounces dry sparkling wine (prosecco, cava, California sparkling, or champagne) *

1 ounce chilled fresh squeezed citrus juice (orange, tangerine, grapefruit or pomelo)

1 chilled flute

1 half wheel citrus slice (or in the case of a grapefruit or pomelo, 1 quarter wheel)

Combine juice and sparkling wine in a mixing beaker or pitcher, stir and then let foam subside. Pour into your chilled flute glass and garnish gently with the citrus wheel.

Many novice mimosa makers try and combine the juice and the wine in the serving glass. Fresh juice and sparkling wine will foam profusely if combined too quickly, which is why many restaurant mimosas wind up with sticky stems. By mixing the drink in a separate glass the foaming problem is nullified completely and the proportions are maintained correctly.

  * Méthode champenoise wines rated “dry” or higher, work best in mimosas. Avoid sweet bubblies like Asti spumante or demi-secs. Their sweetness will overwhelm the drink.