Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Great Champagne Cocktails



Whether you enjoy them to accompany your weekend brunch or use them as a refreshing aperitif during the warm-weather months, cocktails with a sparkling wine base can be a tasty treat that’s boozy enough to get you relaxed, but not so strong as to knock you on your butt.  Recently, I took a class with Jenn Smith at The Astor Center in New York City called “Great Champagne Cocktails” where we learned about different types of sparkling wines and their associated cocktail recipes. 


To start off the evening, all students were greeted with a Bellini, which originated at Harry’s Bar, located in Venice’s Cipriani Restaurant.  It is said that the Bellini, which contains peach puree (skin removed), was created in that region of Italy because of the fact that it is known for its extremely high quality peaches, which give the drink its pinkish color.  The cocktail is believed to be named after an artist famous for painting monks as its color is said to resemble that of the monks’ robes.  After pouring 2 ounces of the puree into a coupe glass, fill the rest with Prosecco, which is used because its taste has peach notes that accent the puree (also, since it’s Italy’s version of a sparkling wine, I’m sure that doesn’t hurt either). 


According to Smith, an American era often referred to as The Golden Age Of Cocktails began shortly after The Civil War and lasted right up until the time of Prohibition.  Back in those days, a cocktail was any spirits-based drink that contained sugar and bitters; a spirits-based drink that included sugar without bitters was considered a julep.  Perhaps the most famous brand of bitters is Angostura, which has a spicy nose and contains roots, seeds and an infusion of flowers.  At 90 proof (45% alcohol), it is considered to be good for an upset stomach; some pharmacists even dispensed it for such ailments.


The use of bitters in a cocktail is what brings us to the classic Champagne Cocktail.  Its recipe is as follows: 

  • Place a single sugar cube into a champagne flute
  • Add three dashes of Angostura bitters
  • Fill the glass with six ounces of Champagne
  • Garnish with a lemon twist

Keep in mind that you don’t need to stir anything here because the combination of the bitters and the Champagne will automatically cause the sugar cube to dissolve on its own. 


The last mixture we made on the evening was perhaps my favorite sparkling wine-based cocktail, Death In The Afternoon.  Being a Hemingway fan, I personally find this one irresistible.  Legend has it that the drink was invented by Papa back in 1934 when he fell out of his fishing boat during a storm; trying to recover from the incident, he is said to have created it in an effort to remedy the chill he experienced as a result.  A simple recipe, it merely requires using an ounce of Absinthe, then top with ice cold Champagne, making sure that mixing the two causes the so-called louching effect when the combination of the two results in an opalescent milkiness. 



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