Quo Vadis Apertivo

Quo Vadis Apertivo

I had never been a big fan of the Italian aperitif Campari until bartender Paul Mant made me this brilliant champagne cocktail at Quo Vadis Club in London. The clementine (tangerine) juice and the bubbles soften the Campari’s bitterness to a pleasant note. This cocktail is delicious at 3 a.m. at the end of long evening or served at brunch.

Makes 1 cocktail

  • 3/4 ounce clementine juice
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon simple syrup or agave nectar
  • 3/4 ounce Campari
  • 3 ounces champagne
  • lemon twist, for garnish

Add clementine juice, lemon juice, simple syrup or agave nectar if using and Campari to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously until the mixture is well-chilled. Pour into a small stemless flute or a juice glass. Top off with the champagne. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

Courtesy of Quo Vadis in Soho, London

Big Bottles of Bubbly Make for Big Fun

This chart from Champagne Drappier illustrates wine bottle sizes from the personal sized bottle to the improbable Melchizedek, which could satisfy 200 of your closest friends.
This chart from Champagne Drappier illustrates wine bottle sizes from the personal sized bottle to the improbable Melchizedek, which could satisfy 200 of your closest friends.

As magical as it is to open any bottle of sparkling wine, opening a big bottle of bubbly when entertaining makes an even grander statement. Whether it’s a magnum which holds the equivalent of two regular bottles of wine or a massive 4-bottle Jeroboam, bigger bottles are a smart and easy way to please a crowd.

Looking back on bottles of bubbly with friends over the years, the larger format bottles seem to stand out. We celebrated wrapping up shooting for my book The Bubbly Bar with a magnum of Veuve Clicquot; I remember sharing the same wine with Tony Hawk and his friends at a party in their backyard. Krug’s rich and toasty Grande Cuvée flowed freely from magnums at an over-the-top press trip to show off the brand’s custom hot air balloon.

The cool thing about larger bottles is that ounce for ounce, they’re no more expensive than the 750. And besides their impressive size, larger format bottles win in the taste department when compared to the usual 750 ml bottles. I learned this lesson after a long and windy drive up to Mendocino County to visit Roederer Estate. The tasting room hosts pour their non vintage brut from a 750 ml bottle and a 1.5 liter magnum and letting guests taste the two side by side. The wine from the 750 was deliciously crisp and bursting with fresh green apples; the same wine from the magnum had these richer, toasty notes that usually are found in a wine that’s much older and more expensive.

Krug's Grande Cuvée tastes even better when its poured from a magnum.
Krug's Grande Cuvée tastes even better when its poured from a magnum.

Some fun larger bottles to try include Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut, the nearly organic Drusian Prosecco, Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut and Joy!, a sparkling wine from Iron Horse that’s aged for 10 to 15 years. It’s only available in magnums, to make sure there’s enough liquid happiness to go around.

Cocktails to Crave: The Old Cuban

This delicious Old Cuban was mixed at Rye, by co-owner Jon Gasparini.
This delicious Old Cuban was mixed at Rye, by co-owner Jon Gasparini.

After doing a little event for a group of women attorneys at The Bubble Lounge last week, I went out for drinks with Heather and Marie, a pair of new foodie friends.

As we scanned the menu at a hip vintage style watering hole in the Financial District, Heather was disappointed that the Old Cuban – her favorite new drink – wasn’t on the menu. I told her to ask for one anyway. It’s my new favorite too and a modern classic that any bartender worth his salt knows how to make.

Apparently not. The waiter brought over two pale cocktails that looked like mojitos. Close – since the Old Cuban is a variant of the mojito. Both are made with lime, mint, simple syrup and benefit from a good golden or dark rum with some age, like Zaya, Smith & Cross or El Dorado 12.

But what makes an Old Cuban really fine and so appealing is the Angostura bitters. A proper Old Cuban – as created by the brilliant Audrey Saunders at Pegu Club in New York – has a few dashes of Angostura bitters in the mix.

I’ve read that some bartenders are making their version of an Old Cuban sans Angostura bitters. An Old Cuban without bitters isn’t an Old Cuban, it’s a Hemingway Mojito, which gets finished with a slug of champagne instead of club soda. Plus, it’s a huge mistake in terms of flavor.

Angostura bitters are made in Trinidad from a secret blend of roots and herbs.
Angostura bitters are made in Trinidad from a secret blend of roots and herbs.

Bitters aren’t a garnish here, like they are atop the foam on a Pisco Sour. In an Old Cuban, Angostura bitters make the cocktail. Bitters turn the drink the desired shade of reddish brown – think of an Old Cuban cigar. And they also bring the drink’s flavors into sharp focus while imparting a mysterious, complex quality that makes an Old Cuban so beguiling. And since Angostura bitters were originally created as a digestive aid, I can’t think of any better way to begin a meal.

One can find a good Old Cuban in the Bay Area at Rye in the Tenderloin, Miss Pearl’s Jam House (ask for Al) in Oakland’s Jack London Square and Beretta in the Mission.

But since not much tastes better – especially in winter – than a fine cocktail from your home bar, here’s the recipe:

Old Cuban
5 fresh mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 to 3/4 ounces simple syrup
1-1/2 ounces tasty rum
2 to 3 dashes Angostura bitters
2 ounces brut cava or champagne

Muddle the mint leaves, lime juice and simple syrup in the bottom of a mixing glass or cocktail shaker. Add the rum, bitters and ice and shake until well-chilled. Strain into a smallish footed cocktail glass or vintage champagne coupe and top with the sparkling wine or champagne. Garnish with the mint sprig. Repeat.

Sex in a Glass: A Sparkling Wine from Michigan

Sex is the titillating name of a rose sparkling wine from Michigan by Larry Mawby.
Sex is the titillating name of a rose sparkling wine from Michigan by Larry Mawby.

There are lots of drinks described as sex in a glass: pinot noir; champagne; and there’s even a Sex in a Glass cocktail made of Cointreau, Kahlua and Angostura bitters. But as it happens, Sex is the name of a sparkling wine from Michigan that I tasted recently.

It’s made by a quirky winemaker named Larry Mawby. For the past 10 years, Mawby has made nothing but sparkling wine in the Leelanau Peninsula, in the northern part of the state.

Mawby likes to get people’s attention. His newest wine is a fruity and slightly sweet sparkling wine called Detroit, that blends riesling with the rather obscure grapes traminette and Cayuga. But he’s probably best known for his M.Lawrence range of sparkling wines with titillating, tongue in cheek names like Wet, Fizz and Sex.

He also makes a more “serious” range of methode champenoise wines under the name L. Mawby. I ordered one of those too – The Talismon. I opened that at a party on the Fourth of July and was very pleasantly surprised. The wine was a delicious balance of citrusy flavors and aromas with toasty ones. It had a nice long finish and the first sip made me want another. I thought it was a of the better domestic sparkling wines I’ve tasted, and for just $30 a bottle. The only thing I found odd about it was the tiny cork – probably the shortest I’ve ever seen on a sparkling wine.

Larry Mawby uses tiny corks on his wines, compared with the size of a Dom Perignon cork at right.
Larry Mawby uses tiny corks on his wines, compared with the size of a Dom Perignon cork at right.

Sex was a different story – a $15 wine with a pretty pink blush color, nice bubbles on the tongue, followed by a hint of indistinct fruit and some distracting musty aromas.

While Talismon and the other L. Mawby wines get their bubbles from a second fermentation in the bottle – just like French champagne – Sex is fermented in a tank. Tank fermentation is a cheaper way to make wine and it’s great for wines like prosecco and moscato which have delicate aromas and flavors that would be lost in a traditional fermentation. But tank fermentation can’t produce a wine of the complexities and nuances of a methode champenoise wine.

So if you’re looking for a fling with a fun sparkling wine with a racy name, something to eat with pepperoni pizza and barbecue ribs or a gift for a bachelorette party, then Sex might be it.

Like they say, Sex is a lot like pizza. Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.

Weekend in Napa: Bottega & Domaine Chandon

The Venetian 75 is one of the lovely, Italian-themed cocktails at Bottega in Yountville.
The Venetian 75 is one of the lovely, Italian-themed cocktails at Bottega in Yountville.

I’m tired of waiting for summer to start here in the part of the California Bay Area that includes San Francisco and Oakland. You’d be hard pressed to melt a Popsicle in this grey and chilly clime. So this weekend, I’ve decided to drive up to a place where it’s about 10 degrees warmer and the mood is always resort-y and light. I’m talking about the Napa Valley.

As if you needed any enticement, here are a couple more great reasons to make the trip yourself.

Bottega Napa Valley is the grand new restaurant by Michael Chiarello of NapaStyle fame. Located in the tony burg of Yountville – home of The French Laundry – it’s set in an imposing building with a two large outdoor fireplace on the wrap-around porch. Inside, we sat at a long rustic communal table flanked by buttery yellow chairs.

When I opened the cocktail menu, I knew I’d order the Venetian 75, an Italian take on the classic French 75. Instead of champagne, this drink got its sparkle from a splash of prosecco, the sparkling wine of Italy’s Veneto region. And the drink’s gorgeous shade of pink makes me think of the vivid hues created by Venetian painters like Titian, Bellini and Tiepolo.

Venetian 75
2 ounces 209 Gin
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 ounces hibiscus syrup
1 piece candied ginger
2 ounces prosecco
fresh basil leaf, for garnish

Add the gin, lemon juice, hibiscus syrup and candied ginger to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until well-chilled. Strain into a champagne coupe or small martini glass with a sugared rim. Top with the prosecco and garnish with the basil leaf.

After enjoying house-made salumi and some of the ridiculously good salsa di Parmigiano – a mix of finely crumbled Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, olive oil, fresh parsley, garlic and a hint of red pepper flakes – I’d wander over to Domaine Chandon, the LVMH-owned winery just over the highway from downtown Yountville.

Domaine Chandon has always been one of my favorite places to unwind and sip bubbly in a beautiful setting. The winery is modern yet feels like its part of the landscape that includes beautiful old oaks, gentle slopes and a moat filled with aquatic life. As they approach the entrance, visitors are greeted by a patch of rock sculptures that resemble beige mushrooms.

The newest feature is an installation of 21 large metal wind sculptures throughout the grounds. Designed by Utah sculptor Lyman Whitaker, the copper and steel pieces inspired by natural motifs are designed to move with the wind.

I can almost taste the bubbly now.

A series of wind sculptures is the newest art installation at Domaine Chandon in Yountville.
A series of wind sculptures is the newest art installation at Domaine Chandon in Yountville.

10 Great Bubbly Bargains for New Year’s Eve – All Under $30

This cremant from Burgundy is French, eminently drinkable, and $10 at Trader Joe's.
This cremant from Burgundy is French, eminently drinkable, and $10 at Trader Joe's.

On the whole, I think 2009 will be remembered as the year of moderation. Nearly everyone is looking for ways to be smarter about how they spend their money. While champagne and sparkling wines seem like a luxury – and they are a luxurious experience — they don’t have to come with a high price tag. One of the most useful features of my book The Bubbly Bar is a guide to buying bubbly in every price range. Since I wrote the book, I’ve continued to discover affordable sparkling wines that are great for sipping alone or in cocktails. Here’s my list of bargain bubbly available nationwide for New Year’s Eve 2010.

1. Michel Dervin Brut Champagne – crafted by a small grower in Champagne, this is toasty just the way you want, about $29.99
2. Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut or Extra Dry – made just outside Seattle, these wines are fresh and easy to like, about $8.99
3. Juve y Camps Reserva de la Familia Cava Brut Nature – an elegant and delicate mouthful, about $15
4. Blason de Bourgogne – a sparkling wine from Burgundy, made especially for Trader Joes available in brut and a brut rosé, about $10 – At Trader Joe’s
5. Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs – crafted from pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, a satisfying bubbly with a hint of richness, about $17

The Domaine Carernos Brut is a perfect marriage of California and France, with its fresh fruit balanced by toastiness.
The Domaine Carernos Brut is a perfect marriage of California and France, with its fresh fruit balanced by toastiness.

6. Domaine Carneros Brut — fresh and toasty, a marriage of California and France, about $24
7. Roederer Estate Brut – crisp green apple abounds, about $19
8. Mionetto Prosecco Brut – fresh green pear and soft bubbles, about $14

A sophisticated sparkling wine from Alsace, it delivers gorgeous pinot noir flavor.
A sophisticated sparkling wine from Alsace, it delivers gorgeous pinot noir flavor.

9. Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rosé – sophisticated and juicy with pinot noir, about $20
10. Domaine Chandon Brut Classic – a bright and bubbly wine, always a classic about $15

Champagne Daniel: You Can Take it Home with You

Cuvee Daniel Champagne
Cuvee Daniel Champagne

I’ve been in NYC for a few days of press interviews and book signings to promote The Bubbly Bar. The highlights included taping a Better.TV segment with Audra Lowe that airs later this week, making cocktails for Betsy on Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food with Betsy Karetnick. But in between all the running around, I was lucky enough to be able to steal away to a few of Chef Daniel Boulud’s restaurants that included the fabulous new DBGB Kitchen & Bar where we had the most perfect gourmet burgers and housemade sausages and DB Bistro Moderne, where I enjoyed a a light lunch of an Indian spiced squash soup, Alsatian tart and an Eliot Spitzer sighting.

One element that I found in all three restaurants – besides the amazing food, interesting decor and top-notch service, was the Cuvée Daniel Champagne. It flowed most freely at Restaurant Daniel, where we sipped glasses of the house bubbly along with a series of little morsels including scallops and satiny fluke that were on the appetizer menu. It was elegant and crisp with a richnesss that unfolded around gorgeous streams of tiny bubbles.

Daniel’s champagne is made by Pierre Paillard, a small producer in Bouzy that has specialized in pinot-noir driven wines and champagnes since 1768!

And it turns out, it’s available for purchase from Sherry-Lehman in NYC. This week they’re offering Cuvee Daniel for $45 a bottle; even with cross country shipping it’s a quite affordable way to experience a bit of luxury from one of New York’s top restaurants.

Isn’t it Grand? Champagne Tasting in San Diego

grower glasses smallThe Tour de Champagne – a fabulous tasting event that I just attended in Washington DC – hasn’t made its way to San Diego just yet. But we have an annual tasting that’s just as spectacular: Le Grand Champagne this Saturday Nov. 14 at the WineSellar & Brasserie.

This year, the pre-holiday tasting and appetizer pairing will feature 37 different marques (aka brands) of champagne and sparkling wines. They range from wines from small producers such as Charles Ellner and Bruno Paillard (check out the site if you love the movie Diva) to tête de cuvées by well known houses like Taittinger, Bollinger and Moët & Chandon. It’s not just NV brut; there will be several fine rose champagnes, the somewhat elusive Veuve Clicquot Demi Sec and Iniskillin’s amazing sparkling ice wine. Special pricing is being offered on Saturday for people who want to take their favorites home.

Matt Smith, the creative new chef at WineSellar & Brasserie, has created a delicious menu to enhance the different bubblies. Enjoy honeydew and grapes with delicate wines, lavender-scented goat cheese with crisp ones, celery root soup and crispy pancetta to pair with bold toasty champagnes and smoked salmon mousse with brut rosés.

The tasting is from 2 to 6 p.m at the WineSellar & Brasserie, 9550 Waples St. Suite 115 in Mira Mesa. Tickets are $85 per person or $70 for Wine Club members. For more reservations and more information, call 858-450-9557.

White Stars, Anemones & Black Currants: Bubbly Questions Answered

I was greeted by a bottle of Fleur de Champagne and painted flutes when I visited Perrier Jouet in Champagne this summer.

I’ve gotten a few questions lately at my site The Bubbly Girl so I thought I’d answer a few of them in one post. If you have a question about bubbly or cocktails, feel free to ask!

Mal wrote to ask how long the Perrier-Jouët bottle has worn its fabulous cloak of white and gold anemone flowers?

The Perrier-Jouët family has always had an artistic flair, shown most notably in the Chateau Perrier and their home that has been converted into the Maison Belle Epoque on the Rue de Champagne in Epernay. In 1902 Henri Gallice commissioned famed artist Emile Gallé to create a special design for the Perrier-Jouët bottle that captured the artistry and spirit of the art nouveau movement. Gallé painted white and pink anemones outlined in gold with tendrils that hug the curves of the bottle. Apparently, with wars and other drama affecting the maison, the Gallé design sat unused for 60 years. It was unearthed in 1964 when a wonderful vintage inspired Perrier-Jouët to create a special cuvée called Fleur de Champagne, aka Belle Epoque in Europe. It was unveiled at Maxim’s in Paris and at Alcazar to mark Duke Ellington’s 70th birthday.

James, a recent transplant to San Diego, asked where he could find crème de cassis? In Japan, there’s a popular drink called Orange Cassis that’s a blend of crème de cassis and OJ that he wants to recreate stateside.

Luckily for James, crème de cassis – which is black currant liqueur is somewhat popular in the U.S. and Europe as an ingredient in the classic champagne cocktail the Kir Royale or the white wine cocktail called a Kir. It should be available at most well stocked liquor stores – especially the old school ones. The thing I like about creme de cassis is that its kind of sweet balanced by a tang on the back end. There’s a wide variety of styles of crème de cassis out there – some are more commercial and cost about $10; others like Massenez and L’Heritier Guyot are more artisanal and can cost about $20 to $30. For more brands, check out this crème de cassis discussion on Chowhound.

Valerie wrote wondering what champagne to drink now that Moët & Chandon isn’t making White Star any more?

I wrote this post about the demise of White Star earlier this year, though I’ve been seeing it around for much of the year. You might try the new Imperial, the cuveée that Moët created to replace the top-selling White Star. Imperial isn’t quite as sweet, but it’s very tasty. If it was the slight sweetness of White Star you loved, then why not give Nectar Imperial, Moët’s demi-sec style champagne a try.