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Friday, December 30, 2011

Champing at the bit – sparkling wines under $20 for your 2012 New Year’s celebration

Even in Salt Lake City it’s time to get ready for the champagne occasion of the year: New Year’s Eve.  Wine connoisseurs and most card carrying cocktailians are all aware that real (capital “C”) Champagne comes only from France.  The French discourage others from using the appellation “Champagne” on their sparkling wines, and many of the quality wineries (especially those who wish to sell their wines in France) comply, so most sparkling wines (bubbly for short) will not say “champagne” on the bottle, although some do.  Unfortunately there are few (none?) legitimate Champagnes available in the under $20 (for 750ml.) price range.  If you would like to learn more about Champagne, including the names of the big Champagne houses, check out the New York Times Champagne navigator page

For those of us on a recessionary (or depressionary) budgets who still want to celebrate with some sparkling wine, the Utah State Liquor Store system has obliged us with a great selection of American sparkling wines for under $20 with some pretty good ones for under $10.   (Those of you who live in bigger markets should be able to buy all of the wines mentioned here, although they may or may not be on sale.)  When cocktail recipes call for champagne, it’s usually more economical to use a good sparkling wine.  Drink your high quality Champagne (and high quality domestic bubblies) straight so you can appreciate them.  For champagne cocktails, like the French 75 and the Kir Royale, there are some very good sparklers under $20 (or even $10) that are ideal for mixing.  Readers should always have a bottle or two of better quality champagne around for celebrations and several less expensive bottles for mixing.  If you have a spare fridge in the basement, keep it stocked.

As usual, this post will only recommend wines from houses that have had some of their sparkling wines score at least 85 or 90 points by some well-known rating service like Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast.  Although quality will vary year to year with the vintage, etc., it’s safe to assume that these winemakers know what they are doing and will turn out a good product.  That means that while individual wines mentioned here may not have been rated (or not rated high enough to brag about), you will be buying a reliable product and not junk wine.

Under $20
Before we get into the real bargains, lets look at the bubblies that price out closer to $20. Gloria Ferrer makes some excellent sparkling wines that are among my favorites.  Although not on sale this month (that’s a shame) their Blanc de Noirs ($18) and Brut ($17) have both been highly rated by multiple rating services.  Domaine Chandon is another producer of highly rated bubbly in our price range.  Their Brut is on sale this month for $16, and Chandon Blanc de Noirs, while not on sale, is good at $19.  Rated only a couple of points lower is Mumm Napa’s Brut, on sale this month for $19. 

Around $10 and less
Korbel used to be the best of the budget bubblies, their Brut has been rated respectably in the mid-eighties and is on sale this month ($10.5), as are several other of their sparklers, a sweet Rosé (great in a JTJ Cocktail) and a Chardonnay among them.  Now, however, they have some competition in their price range.  Domaine Ste Michelle, also scoring in the mid-eighties, is another bargain bubbly on sale for $10 this month.  The real bargains in this price range, however, are some of the sparklers from Barefoot Bubbly.  Three Bubblies (Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay Brut, and Chardonnay Extra Dry) are all on sale for $8.  Wine Enthusiast gave one of their bubblies an 87 rating and a Top 100 Best Values award several years ago.  Barefoot Bubblies are a great value; the first time I tasted one I couldn’t believe the price.  Barefoot’s sparklers are very drinkable on their own, and are great in any champagne cocktail you might care to try.
There are some even less expensive bubblies on sale this month: André and Cook’s are on sale for as low as $4.  Needless to say, these are not among my recommendations, and so far as I know they have never been highly rated.  They can work quite well in punches or in other concoctions where “champagne” is a minority ingredient or is overpowered by the other ingredients, but my recommendation is that you avoid drinking them straight.

If you have an affinity for some other bubbly (domestic or imported) that is available for under $20, please share the information with others by adding a comment to this post. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Celebrate the New Year with the JTJ Cocktail

A special cocktail is in order for a big celebration.  Late last summer, as my daughter’s Labor Day wedding was approaching, the Utah Mixologist was in search of a signature cocktail for the reception that was to be held at the Red Pine Lodge at the Canyons Resort.  Regular readers are aware that the Utah Mixologist creates his own cocktails from time to time, and some of them are not too bad (the Rum-based Rapture and the Rye-based Rapple come to mind), but for his daughter’s wedding he wanted something really good; that meant getting a professional involved.  Finding where to find someone capable of creating a great cocktail recipe seemed like a good job for social media.  One of my Twitter friends, @LocalBonVivant, (a.k.a. Christian Schnurr in the real world) came to mind.  Christian is the bartender up in Park City, and a real professional.  He enthusiastically volunteered to develop a signature cocktail recipe for the big event and came through with a beauty!  Christian’s creation, dubbed the JTJ Cocktail (for the initials of my daughter and her (then) fiancé), was a big hit with the guests based on the bar bill I received from Canyons catering.  Everyone I saw with one loved it.

The recipe is not overly complex, making this a good candidate cocktail for your New Year’s Eve party.  This is probably a good year to go high-end on your New Year celebration since it may well be (at least according to the Mayan calendar) the last New Year’s party you ever have.  There’s a good chance you have everything you need, except perhaps the St. Germain Liqueur (CS# 066836 in limited distribution in Utah, so be sure to call ahead).  Ketel One® Vodka, a small batch hand-crafted Vodka that sells around 2 million cases a year (seems a little contradictory, but it is good Vodka) goes great in Vodka Martinis, and works well here, too.  You should enjoy the interplay between the orange from the Grand Marnier and the floral notes from the elderflowers in the St. Germain.  As for the Rosé, there are a lot of sparkling Rosés out there, at home we went with Korbel based on their other sparkling wines, which are pretty decent.  The frozen grapes will melt faster than you think, but warn your guests to be careful before biting down just the same.

  • 1 oz Ketel One® Vodka
  • 0.75 oz St. Germain® Liqueur
  • 0.5 oz Grand Marnier® Liqueur
  • 0.5 oz Simple Syrup
  • Sparkling Rosé (for fill, anything works here as long as you don't go too cheap)

Add all ingredients, except Rosé, into a shaker filled with ice. Hard shake and then strain into a cocktail glass. Fill with chilled Rosé. Garnish with frozen red grapes on a skewer.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cocktail ingredients Utah update – December 2011

When Utahans walk into the Utah DABC State Liquor Stores this month, they may think that Santa came early.  As far as Special Price Adjustments (SPA) go; there is a lot on sale for the December holidays.  These deals are great for gifts (given or received), or for stocking your bar.  (Note: later in the month there will be a separate post on pre-New Year’s price adjustments (actually available all December) on sparkling wines.)  Ready for some Christmas shopping? Don’t forget to look at the gift items that may be found on the top shelf of the Utah State Stores. These gift packages usually contain a bottle of liquor and items like glasses or a shaker (Courvoisier even has a decanter for Cognac) for around the same price as the bottle without the gift. Some of them are pretty nice, others might be a little tacky.  Shop early in the month for a better selection and buy one for a lazy relative to give you for Christmas.  Now, let’s get down to business.

If you’re into a Dickensian Christmas celebration, you might want to start off with some Gin.  This month there is a variety of Gins marked down, most of the good ones between 10 and 15%.  Gins with price adjustments include Bombay Sapphire®, Tanqueray®, Beefeater®, and even the surprisingly good, bargain Gin: New Amsterdam® 1750ml for $24 (CS# 031473).  While you’re picking up a nice bottle of Gin, pick up a bottle of Campari® (on SPA this month) and try one of my favorite Gin cocktails, a Negroni.  You can look up all of the prices for yourself by clicking through to the “SPA Product List” to open a price book in PDF format that shows all of the markdowns for the current month; then search on “gin” or the product of your choice. 

This is a great month to stock up on your favorite Liqueurs or buy them as gifts.  Di Saronno Amaretto® ($22) and a favorite for cocktails, Amaretto Di Amore® ($10), are both marked down.  Godiva Chocolate Liqueur® ($27) and Kahlua Coffee Liqueur® ($17) are on SPA, along with a variety of Irish Cream Liqueurs and Liqueurs like Alize® and Midori®, and another favorite Triple Sec substitute: Gran Gala® Orange Liqueur ($20).

There are 15 different Bourbons on SPA this month, so it’s a great opportunity to stock up.  Most of the major brands are represented, and there are single barrel offerings from Branton®, Eagle Rare®, and Evan Williams®.  There is so much available, that this post will have to be continued at a later date…
As to any other sale or clearance items, if you see anything at your local state store that other cocktailians might enjoy, post a response to this article.  See the following list “Suggested by the author” for information on how to use the Utah DABC website.  You can check out what else is on sale (e.g. the wines etc.) by clicking through to the “SPA Product List” to open a price book in PDF format that shows all of the markdowns for the current month.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Ending Prohibition: Utah led the way on Repeal Day

Although Prohibition has been over for almost ninety years, Americans are still fascinated by the period, and Utahans, especially in the liberal hotbed of Salt Lake City, are proud of Utah’s link to Repeal Day, December 5, 1933.  This year we enjoyed Ken Burns critically acclaimed three-part series “Prohibition” on PBS that covered not only the usual topics of gangsters, bootlegging, and police raids, but examined the social movements leading to Prohibition and the impacts Prohibition had on society.  The popular HBO series, “Boardwalk Empire” follows the tribulations of gangsters active at the beginning of Prohibition (circa 1920).  Now, thanks to Ken Burns, when Nucky or Jimmy talk about making a deal with George Remus of Cincinnati, we know that he’s a real person and how his life turned out.

Prohibition is a good example of unintended consequences.  While the intent was to achieve worthy goals like less alcohol abuse and less abuse of women and children, and Prohibition did make some progress on these goals, it also contributed to the growth of organized crime, decreased respect for the law and the government, and (on a more positive note) helped give birth to women’s liberation.  Legend has it that one of Prohibitions positive contributions (perhaps the only lasting one) was an increased interest in cocktails and in cocktail recipes, mostly due to the poor quality of the booze that was available.  In reality, Prohibition did the cocktail culture a lot of harm.  Many bartenders were put out of work (at least temporarily) and there was a diaspora of some of the best to other countries where they could ply their trade of making high quality cocktails.

It’s hard for us to believe that Prohibition actually lasted thirteen years.  Ultimately, though, people came to believe that the bad outweighed the good and a movement to repeal prohibition gathered steam.  Repeal was a plank in the Democratic Party platform in 1932, and FDR promised to support repeal in his campaign.  Because Prohibition was implemented via constitutional amendment (the 18th), it could only be repealed via constitutional amendment (the 21st).  The 21st amendment was proposed by congress in February, 1933, and sent to the states for ratification.  Three quarters of the states had to ratify within seven years for the amendment to pass, but the deed was done in less than one.  Most constitutional amendments are ratified by state legislatures, but the 21st was to be ratified by state constitutional conventions.  This anomaly may be the reason why, over the objections of the LDS Church, which pointed out some of the good things prohibition had accomplished, on December 5, 1933, the great state of Utah became the 36th state (and the third state that day, thanks to being located in the Mountain time zone) to ratify the 21st Amendment, thus repealing Prohibition.  So when you celebrate Repeal Day (you will, won’t you?), be sure to raise your Gin cocktail (what better liquor for Repeal day?) in the direction of Utah (if you’re not already there) and drink a toast to the state that brought the Repeal of Prohibition to all America.

Note: links have been provided to all sources used for this article.
Public domain photo of the Detroit Police during Prohibition from the National Archives