By Mark Gauert
City & Shore Magazine
I gaze into the golden light bubbling through the glass of champagne in my hand, and glance at the burnt-red corruption at the bottom of the crème de cassis bottle in the other.
Midnight, and a new year, are just seconds away. The hand holding the bottle starts to tremble.
I can’t do it, I say, finally. I just can’t pour this into that for a New Year’s toast.
There is champagne, I say, putting down the bottle of crème de cassis. And there are cocktails.
They should not meet. They should not mingle. They should never cloud the golden light in our glasses.
We ring in a new year with champagne, for auld lang syne, not mimosas. We make toasts at weddings with champagne, not bellinis. When we celebrate any momentous event or family reunion, we pop the champagne and let it run wild and free into our sparkling glasses.
Champagne straight, please, no chaser.
We do not pause to supplement such significant moments with a splash, say, of peach schnapps. We do not hold the toast until somebody can find the Blue Curaçao rolling around the back of the liquor cabinet.
Crème de banana, anyone? Grenadine? Vermouth?
No, no, no.
But, this is the holiday season. And I suppose I could see the need – for simply aesthetic, party-planning reasons – for festive holiday blue, red, even – heaven help us – green cocktails at a party.
If we must.
So I would almost be willing to look the other way, and let the crème de cassis in my hand cloud the golden light into a ruddy kir royale, between now and, say, Dec. 31. Maybe even into a mimosa, on New Year’s Day.
But first, I wanted some support on the ethics of mixing champagne with something other than a champagne flute. Some authority, some back up, from the good people who invented champagne.
So not long ago, I stepped into the fabled Le Relais Bernard Loiseau in Saulieu, France, on an exhaustive, fact-finding mission. I figured if anyone can set us all straight on these issues, the sommelier at a Michelin Guide three-star French restaurant could.
Baptiste Gauthier did not hesitate, and his hands did not tremble, when I explained that I was doing research on les cocktails à base de champagne, and was just wondering if he might have something to recommend. A convincingly authoritative figure – in black coat and bowtie, gold grape-leaf pin firmly in his lapel – he said he knew just the thing.
Gauthier returned from the bar about 10 minutes later carrying a tray with a simple flute filled with that golden, bubbly light. Aha, I thought – the sommelier at a Michelin three-star restaurant would NOT serve an adulterated glass of champagne, after all.
I raised the glass to my lips, said my sante, took a sip from that oh, so perfectly chilled glass…
And tried to figure out what it was that I was tasting. It was instantly familiar, but..from where, when? Was it lychee? Was it cassis? Was it…a smoky tea leaf?
And, most astonishingly, why was this golden glass of champagne – mixed with whatever it was mixed with – so…delicious?
“Non,’’ Gauthier said, smiling, as I gave up guessing. “C’est liqueur de pommes et Thé Earl Grey.’’
Apple liqueur? Earl Grey tea? Champagne?
Yes, yes, yes.
All together extraordinary?
So, I have returned from my exhaustive, fact-finding mission to France with important news from the good people who invented champagne: It really is OK to mix something into the bubbly in our glasses.
As long as we cloud the golden light with something extraordinary.
Champagne with Apple Liqueur infused with Earl Grey Tea
Served at Le Relais Bernard Loiseau, a Michelin Guide three-star restaurant in Saulieu, France.
1 Champagne flute
2 Parts Liqueur de Pommes
Thé Earl Grey, a fruit-liqueur made by Gabriel Boudier in Dijon, France
3 Parts chilled champagne (your choice – a blanc de blanc works fine)
Directions: There are actually two ways of making this extraordinary champagne cocktail, served at the fabled Michelin Guide three-star restaurant in Burgundy. One: Try to figure out how to infuse Earl Grey tea into apple liqueur on your own (bonne chance, mes amis!). Or two (our preference): Purchase a bottle of famed Dijon fruit liqueur maker Gabriel Boudier’s pre-mixed Liqueur de Pommes Thé Earl Grey in person at the boutique of Le Relais Bernard Loiseau, 2 Rue d’Argentine, 21210 Saulieu, France. It’s also possible to order a bottle for delivery in the United States. (Still cheaper – though just – than flying to France). To order, contact the boutique at Boutique@bernardloiseau.com, or call, from the United States, 011-33-3-80-90-53-50.
Served at Restaurant Dessirier, Michel Rostang’s excellent seafood brasserie on the Place du Maréchal-Juin in Paris.
1 Champagne coupe
1 cube sugar cane
1 part Armagnac
4 parts champagne
Literally meaning a “thrust’’ from a rapier, or dagger, this is an especially strong cocktail – civilized nicely by champagne. Recommend adjusting the quantity of champagne according to your preference/ tolerance for civilization.
Bubbles and Blue
5 oz. Veuve Cliquot champagne (or champagne of your choice)
1 1/2 oz. chilled Hpnotiq
Directions: Hpnotiq, a blend of premium vodka, cognac and tropical fruit juices, also from France, creates an especially pretty holiday cocktail. Pour into a champagne flute, add champagne, celebrate.
1 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. cranberry juice
4 oz. Piper-Heidsieck champagne
Directions: Pour cranberry and Cointreau into champagne flute.
Garnish – or, if you prefer, deck – with holly leaf.
Orange Honey Blossom
½ oz. Cointreau
1 oz. gin
½ oz. Honey water (3/4 oz. honey, ¼ oz. water)
¾ oz. Fresh mandarin orange juice
1 ½ oz. Piper-Heidsieck champagne
Directions: Shake all ingredients – except the champagne – together. Strain into a champagne flute. Top with champagne. Garnish with an orange twist.
4 oz. Pommery Brut Royal
1 oz Van Gogh Açai-Blueberry Vodka
Directions: Also an especially pretty drink for the holidays. Pour chilled Van Gogh Acai-Blueberry vodka into a flute. Top with Pommery Brut Royal champagne and garnish with a starfruit.
½ oz. Tangerine juice
¼ oz. Maraschino liqueur
3 oz. Moët Impérial champagne
Directions: Place the maraschino cherry into the glass. Pour the tangerine juice followed by the maraschino liqueur. Fill with Moët Impérial. Stir gently with a long spoon.
4 oz. Pommery Brut Royal Champagne
1 oz. Van Gogh
Directions: Pour chilled Van Gogh Pomegranate Vodka into a flute. Top with Pommery Brut Royal Champagne and garnish with a strawberry.
3 ozs. Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Noirs
2 ozs. Cranberry or cran-raspberry juice
½ oz. Triple Sec
Directors: Combine all ingredients in a champagne flute, fill with this sparkling wine from Washington state.
½ cup pineapple juice
½ cup lemon juice
1/3 cup Triple Sec
1 cup brandy
1/3 cup Grenadine
1 750-ml bottle of white wine
2 750-ml bottles of Domaine Ste. Michelle sparkling wine
Directions: Combine all the ingredients then add the white wine and the sparkling wine. Makes approximately 25 4 oz. servings.
1 part Martini Rosato
1 1/2 parts Martini Prosecco
Directions: In a white-wine glass with ice, pour Martini Rosato and Prosecco.
Garnish with raspberry or lemon twist.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared on the eve of new year 2010.