Love & Basketball: Behind the Bench, The Bubbly Girl & Schramsberg

The lovely ladies of Behind the Bench gathered for a fundraising weekend at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. (Photo by Maria Hunt)
The lovely ladies of Behind the Bench gathered for a fundraising weekend at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. (Photo by Maria Hunt)

Last weekend I went up to Beverly Hills to create a sparkling cocktail from The Bubbly Bar at a luncheon that included the wives of many professional basketball players and a few Hollywood celebrities.

Behind the Bench is a non-profit charitable organization run by the wives of current and former NBA basketball players. This year’s festivities culminated in an awards luncheon that honored actress Angela Bassett and director Penny Marshall.

Schramsberg’s Cremant was the featured wine at the luncheon staged at the hip and modern SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. A blend of Flora and Gewurztraminer grapes, the Schramsberg Cremant is a sweeter style known as a demi sec. The ladies sipped a cocktail from my book called the Stiletto, a subtly potent blend of Grand Marnier, Navan cognac and sparkling wine as an aperitif.

Schramsberg's Cremant is a demi-sec style of wine that's great for pairing with subtle desserts or spicy foods. (Photo by Maria Hunt)
Schramsberg's Cremant is a demi-sec style of wine that's great for pairing with subtle desserts or spicy foods. (Photo by Maria Hunt)

Chef Nikki Shaw and DeShawn Snow formerly of Real Housewives of Atlanta were the co-emcees of the luncheon where Marshall and Bassett took the stage to accept their awards. Bassett’s husband Courtney B Vance, who played District Attorney Ron Carver on five seasons of Law & Order Criminal Intent, was there to cheer his wife on.

Bubbly Girl Drink of the Week: Ramos Gin Fizz

A nice, cold and frothy Ramos Gin Fizz as served up at The Varnish in LA. (Photo by Maria Hunt)
A nice, cold and frothy Ramos Gin Fizz as served up at The Varnish in LA. (Photo by Maria Hunt)

I was kind of disappointed when the weather took a turn for cool autumnal temperatures a couple weeks ago. I mean, I was glad I wasn’t sitting in my house sweltering, but I thought I’d missed my opportunity to tell you about my favorite warm weather drink: The Ramos Gin Fizz. But of course, this being San Diego in the climate change era, the weather has gotten hot again so I’m seizing the opportunity.

The Ramos Gin Fizz is an ancient and somewhat peculiar cocktail, a mix of egg, gin, lemon, sugar and milk. It makes you wonder how it first all came together; it was probably related to one of those old drinks called milk punches.

The thing that makes a Ramos Gin Fizz special is orange flower water, which gives the drink an exotic perfumey quality. The clever part is that orange flower water is one of those substances that is thought to help lower the body temperature, making it ideal for Indian summer.

The drink made sense for the first time when I had one in New Orleans, in July (why?) as I was sweating my way through the Tales of the Cocktail conference. It’s actually a concoction first made by Albert Martin.

I went to the Court of Two Sisters, where Miss Flo – who had been working there behind the stick for 40-some years – made me one, as well as her award-winning Hurricane and another fruity concoction.

I took it to go, and was so grateful for the cold, floral, tangy, alcoholic milkshake as I walked through the hot brick streets of the French Quarter and back to my air conditioned hotel. It was like drinking from my own little oasis.

Eric Alperin mixed up another one some months later at his intimate bar called The Varnish, which is behind Cole’s French Dip in downtown LA. It was a beauty, but it didn’t hold a candle to Miss Flo’s.

The Ramos Gin Fizz
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 level teaspoon powdered sugar
1 level teaspoon bar sugar
1-1/2 ounce dry gin
1/2 white of egg
2 ounces fresh milk ( not cream)
5 or 6 drops Imperial Essence of Orange Flowers

Mix the lemon and sugar thoroughly in a shaker; add cracked ice, then gin, then egg and finally the milk and Essence of Orange Flowers. Shake thoroughly and serve in a fizz glass.
From “Trader Vic’s Book of Food and Drink” by Victor Bergeron (Doubleday, 1946)

How to Open a Bottle of Champagne – The Right Way!

Just last night I was having dinner with a really smart and fun foodie friend who loves, cooking, wine and cocktails. At one point the conversation turned to sparkling wine and champagne – big surprise!

But I was surprised when she admitted that when it came to opening bubbly, she usually handed the bottle off to someone else.

If you’ve been suffering from a secret fear of opening a bottle of bubbly, don’t despair! With the help of my TV reporter friend Kristi, I’ve recorded this video to teach anyone how to open that bottle of bubbly safely.

As you’ll read in the introduction of my new book “The Bubbly Bar: Champagne & Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion” the first thing to do is to make sure to chill your sparkling wine properly for 30 minutes to an hour in the refrigerator or an ice and water bath. There’s the same amount of force behind a flying cork and a bullet leaving a gun barrel; making sure the bottle is nice and cold ensures that everything will go smoothly.

Now grab a cloth napkin, your cold bottle of bubbly and let’s get popping!

The Bubbly Girl Drink of the Week: The Aviation

The original Aviation cocktail included a violet liqueur which turns it a celestial shade of blue. (Photo by Maria Hunt)
The original Aviation cocktail included a violet liqueur which turns it a celestial shade of blue. (Photo by Maria Hunt)

Aviation has been on my mind. Both the kind that you sip and the kind that involves checking in and taking off your shoes.  I guess that’s probably because I’m getting ready to travel to my hometown Chicago for Bubbly Bar book parties on October 1, 2 and 3.

But Chicago was also the first place I tasted the Aviation. It was on an election night – that momentous election night of 2008 – visit to The Drawing Room in the Gold Coast area. Scanning cleverly written menu, I spotted an Aviation, which included gin, maraschino and violet liqueur – I was in.

Since it was a quiet night, head mixologist Charles Joly brought the custom-made bar cart to the table and started making our drinks. As he worked, he told the story of the Aviation. I’d never understood why the clear combination of gin, maraschino and lemon labeled an Aviation on most menus warranted such a lofty name. But Joly explained that the original version of the drink – created just as commercial flight was becoming popular – included the liqueur Creme de Violette which stained it a pale blue. With the violet liqueur, an Aviation matches the color of the wild blue yonder.

Charles Joly, head mixologist of the Drawing Room, explained the story behind the Aviation cocktail. (Photo by Maria Hunt)
Charles Joly, head mixologist of the Drawing Room, explained the story behind the Aviation cocktail. (Photo by Maria Hunt)

I had another Aviation recently at a tasting by Preiss Imports, a rather low key San Diego spirit importer with a screaming good portfolio of 500 liqueurs and spirits. Two of their imports include the Italian cherry liqueur Luxardo Maraschino and Parfait Amour, a perfectly lovely French spirit created from violets.

No matter which violet liqueur you choose, a properly made Aviation has a fresh, bracing and fragrant flavor that takes you on a tasty journey.

Aviation
2 ounces dry gin
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Luxardo Maraschino
1/4 ounce violet liqueur
lemon zest, for garnish

Add the gin, lemon juice, maraschino and violet liqueur to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until well chilled, about 30 times. Strain into a cocktail glass like a vintage champagne coupe if you have one. Garnish with the lemon zest.

Bubbles on Tour: Bubbly Bar Book Events

Signing books at the Hotel Solamar on Aug. 26 at the San Diego launch party presented by Slow Food Urban San Diego  and Domaine Chandon - what a blast!
Signing books at the Hotel Solamar on Aug. 26 at the San Diego launch party presented by Slow Food Urban San Diego and Domaine Chandon - what a blast!

It’s been quite the whirlwind since my book The Bubbly Bar: Champagne & Sparkling Wine Cocktails (Clarkson Potter, $16.99) launched a few weeks ago. It’s amazing how many different skills it takes to be an author; not only do you need to know enough about a topic to write about it, once you’ve done so and had the incredible good fortune to get a book published, then you need to become an expert at marketing, event planning and logistics! All that is to say that with the help of some friends, I’ve put together some fun Bubbly Bar book events that will start happening around the country in a couple weeks.

If you’re a Bubbly Girl – or even if you just like to have fun while tasting some sparkling wine cocktails and learning something new, then I hope you’ll come out to join the fun as I make my way around the country. Stay tuned for more events in NYC, San Francisco, Atlanta and San Diego but here’s where I’ll be for the next month or so:

Chicago

Oct. 1.  – Pops for Champagne 601 N. State St. 6 to 8 p.m.
Come learn how to make great autumn cocktails with Domaine Carneros – America’s first estate grown organic sparkling wine and fine artisanal spirits. Ticket are $25 and include a signed book, cocktails and nibbles at America’s most acclaimed champagne bar. To RSVP, email rsvp@popsforchampagne.com

Oct. 3 – Shop & Sip at M2 Boutique, 3527 N. Southport Ave. 12 to 4 p.m.
We’ll have fun sipping fizz and browsing through fabulous fall fashions including TANO leather handbags at 20% off at this value-conscious boutique. Free event, no RSVP required.

Los Angeles

Oct. 7 – Moet Champagne Cocktails & A Sparkling Book Party at The Edison, 108 W. Second Ave. 5:30 to 7:30
p.m. Meet me in the Tesla Lounge for an intimate literary cocktail party featuring Moet & Chandon champagne cocktails and appetizers at this unique vintage-style bar in downtown LA. Wear business or cocktail attire – the Edison has a dress code. Stick around for the sexy cabaret show starting at 8 in the main bar. Tickets are $20 and include a signed book and bubbly. All guests must pre-pay by Oct. 3 by emailing maria at thebubblygirl.com.

NYC

Oct. 12  – The Bombay Bubbly Experience at Beekman’s Bar & Books, 889 1st Ave (At 50th) 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
We’ll explore the unique synergy between fine aromatic Bombay Sapphire gin and bubbly at this cocktail demo and party at Beekman’s, a warm and clubby bar that’s filled with thousands of books. I’ll be mixing drinks along with resident bartender Ben Scorah – GQ Magazine’s NYC Bartender of the Year- and Bombay Sapphire U.S. Mixologist James Moreland.  Tickets are $25 and include cocktails, food and signed books. For information on reservations, email maria at thebubblygirl.com

Napa County

Oct. 24- Cocktail clinics & book signing at Domaine Chandon, 1 California Drive, Yountville. I’ll be lounging in the gift shop of this modern showcase winery and giving two cocktail clinics featuring drinks from the book throughout the day. Cocktails from The Bubbly Bar will also be available for purchase at the tasting bar. Come up and make a day of it by taking a behind the scenes tour of the winery and treating yourself to a bubblicious lunch or dinner at Etoile! Free event!

Washington DC

Nov. 4 – Cava and Latin Libations at Masa 14, 1825 14th St. NW, Washington DC 5:30 to 9 p.m.
Masa 14 is the hot new restaurant by Richard Sandoval and Kaz Okochi that serves Latin and Asian small plates in a hip setting. We’ll explore the fine Spanish sparkling wine called cava and Latin libations from The Bubbly Bar paired with small plates from the restaurant. Tickets are $35 and include, drinks, food and a signed book. Make reservations through www.hooksbookevents.com or call 202-328-1414.

NYC

Dec. 12 – Book signing & Weekend Tasting at Harlem Vintage, 2235 Frederick Douglass Blvd. 4 to 7 p.m. Perrier-Jouet Champagne will be the featured champagne at this tasting and book signing at Harlem Vintage in this famous neighborhood that was home to lots of gin joints and speakeasies dating back to the classic cocktail era. A bottle of international bubbly and a signed copy of the Bubbly Bar make a fabulous and fast holiday gift. Harlem’s own Hue-Man Bookstore will be our book-selling partner for this special tasting. Free event!

Perrier-Jouët & Inglourious Basterds – A Glimpse at Wine & War

?? drank Perrier Jouet champagne in this fateful scene in Inglourious Basterds.
German actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Krueger) drank Perrier-Jouet champagne in this fateful scene at the bar La Louisiane in the movie Inglourious Basterds.(Courtesy photo)

I like a shoot-em-up action flick as much as the next Bubbly Girl, and I wasn’t disappointed with Inglourious Basterds. Of course, I could have done without some of the gore, but that’s to be expected from a Quintin Tarantino movie.

I was pleasantly surprised though to glimpse Perrier-Jouët champagne — the anemone flower painted bottle known as the Cuvée Belle Epoque —  in a few scenes of the movie. The first I recall was at a restaurant where the Jewish heroine Shoshanna (Mélanie Laurent) dealing with the unwelcome attention of German war hero Frederick (Daniel Brühl) and finds herself being treated to fancy lunch with Nazi Joseph Goebbels. It shows up again in a fateful scene at a bar called La Louisiane and once more at the end of the movie, when Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt)  and some of his men get dressed up in tuxes to take in a movie premiere.

Especially given the circumstances of this first scene and the others, there’s a feeling of desperate fin de siecle decadence, watching people gaily drink champagne from beautiful bottles as their country is overrun by invading troops.

Of course, while Inglourious Basterds is fiction, champagne did play a role in both World War I and II. Champagne was both a symbol of French national pride and a valuable commodity that the German armies were quick to loot, as detailed in the book “Wine & War: The French, The Nazis and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure” by Donald Kladstrup. They even appointed wine fuhrers who over saw the selection and storage of wines stolen from France. Some winemakers built false walls in their cellars to hide their precious bottles from the invading armies.

This gate leads to the caves where Perrier Jouet champagne is stored during aging. (Photo by Maria C. Hunt)
This gate adorned with the anemone flower logo in metal leads to the caves where Perrier Jouet champagne is stored during aging. (Photo by Maria C. Hunt)

Those same caves also served as prisons during World War I. Visiting Maison Belle Epoque, the gorgeous art private deco museum that serves as the hospitality house for Perrier-Jouët this summer, I got to tour the caves with winemaker Herve Deschamps. We came across inscriptions carved into the walls by mostly Italian men who were imprisoned there.

This inscription with the name Masse, the year 1911 and 15F - perhaps a regiment - were left behind by an Italian soldier imprisoned in the caves under Perrier Jouet during World War I.
This inscription with the name Masse, the year 1911 and 15F - perhaps a regiment - were left behind by an Italian soldier imprisoned in the caves under Perrier Jouet during World War I.(Photo by Maria C. Hunt)

War and champagne makes me think of one cocktail from my new book The Bubbly Bar: Champagne & Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion in particular: the Kir Royale. A quintessentially French combination of creme de cassis and champagne, the drink is named after Felix Kir. Besides being a priest who later became the mayor of Dijon, France Kir is celebrated as a heroic figure in the French Resistance.

Isn’t it amazing how many stories can be told through a glass of champagne?

Bubbly Girl Drink of the Week: The Rich Girl

John Oates and me before they performed at the Rock the Cure benefit in La Jolla.
John Oates and me before they performed at the Rock the Cure benefit in La Jolla.

It’s been a busy week since The Bubbly Bar launched last week with an awesome bash for 400 who sipped Domaine Chandon sparkling wine cocktails at the Hotel Solamar. The fun continued this week when I was the guest mixologist at Rock the Cure, a benefit to raise money for juvenile diabetes research through JDRF.org.

Grand Marnier and Navan Cognac make a delicious version of The Stiletto from The Bubbly Bar. (Photo by Maria C. Hunt)
Grand Marnier and Navan Cognac make a delicious version of The Stiletto from The Bubbly Bar. (Photo by Maria C. Hunt)

My signature event cocktail  was The Rich Girl named in honor of the event headliners Hall & Oates. A deliciously potent blend of brut sparkling wine, Grand Marnier and Navan Cognac, the Rich Girl was a revinvention of The Stiletto cocktail from the book. I wish Navan had been around when I was writing The Bubbly Bar; the fine French cognac is infused with Madagascar vanilla and has a wonderfully warm and complex flavor. It blends perfectly with the natural curacao orange in Grand Marnier, which is also a cognac based liqueur.

To make it a more luxurious cocktail, I soaked the orange peel garnish in the Navan and then added a touch of 24K edible gold leaf to the drink. It was a hit with both men and women who liked the blend of crisp Gloria Ferrer bubbles, sweetness and potency.Thanks to Steve and Lisa Altman for inviting The Bubbly Girl to be a part of the benefit and Steve Slater and Sara Southern of Southern Wine and Spirits; and Anne Walraven of Moet Hennessy for making the cocktail possible.

The flavors of vanilla and orange liqueurs mixed with bubbly appealed to men and women alike. Both of these guests came back for seconds! (Photo by Maria C. Hunt)
The flavors of vanilla and orange liqueurs mixed with bubbly appealed to men and women alike. Both of these guests came back for seconds! (Photo by Maria C. Hunt)

John Oates of H & O got a kick out of the fact that the drink was named The Rich Girl and was kind enough to pose for a picture! And the evening was a success, raising $500,000 to help combat juvenile diabetes!