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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Champing at the bit – sparkling wines under $20 for New Year’s Eve

It’s almost New Year’s Eve, and that’s the champagne occasion of the year.  It’s not too late to get to the liquor store and get ready for the big night.  First, there is a difference between sparkling wine and Champagne.  Wine connoisseurs are all aware that real (capital “C”) Champagne comes only from France, as are most card carrying cocktailians.  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 many sparkling wines (bubbly for short) will not say “champagne” on the bottle, although some do.  Unfortunately there are few (no?) 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.  It’s a little out of date, but some things don’t change very quickly.

For those of us still on recessionary budgets who still want to celebrate with some sparkling wine, the Utah Sate Liquor Store system has obliged us with a selection of American sparkling wines for under $20 with some pretty good ones for around $10.   (Those of you who live in bigger markets should be able to buy all of the wines mentioned here for similar prices.)  Regular readers are doubtless aware of my love for champagne cocktails like the French 75 and the Kir Royale.  When cocktail recipes call for champagne, though, it’s usually more economical to use a good sparkling wine.  Drink your high quality Champagne (and high quality domestic bubblies) unsullied so you can appreciate them.  For champagne cocktails, there are some very good sparklers under $10 that are ideal for mixing.  Prudent readers will 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.

This post recommends wines from houses that at some time or another 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., I usually assume that these winemakers know what they are doing and will turn out a good product.  So 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, let’s 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 SPA this month (that’s a shame) their Blanc de Noirs ($18) and Brut (both $19) have both been highly rated by multiple rating services.  Domaine Chandon is another producer of highly rated bubbly in our price range.  Their Brut runs $19 and their Blanc de Noirs is on sale this month for $17.  Rated at the same level 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 Extra Dry has been rated respectably in the mid-eighties ($15), and the Brut is on SPA for $11.  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 $9.  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.
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, but don’t dawdle, time is running out.  Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Spice up your drinks with home-made Grenadine

Scofflaw Cocktail will put your Grenadine to good use.
Research on the Scofflaw Cocktail for a recent post encountered one major roadblock: the drink just didn’t quite taste right.  More research and a little more analysis soon found the root cause of the problem: store bought Grenadine.  Now the commercial Grenadine was not bad, but it just didn’t add anything to the cocktail.  In the Scofflaw, the Grenadine must offset the sour from the lemon juice, the dryness from the Vermouth, and even a little dryness from the Rye whiskey.  What was needed was something a little sweeter, but also with a little more pomegranate flavor.

At this point in the process, the research focus moved to finding a recipe for home-made Grenadine.  There are several recipes online that sound very tasty.  Some were very elaborate; Imbibe has a recipe that includes orange flower water and pomegranate molasses.  Cocktail guru Paul Clarke, in his Cocktail Chronicles blog, compares a hot and a cold process (the hot is where you cook the syrup).  Jacob Grier, a cocktail consultant from Portland, experiments with both of Clarke’s recipes and develops a hot recipe of his own in this very interesting post.

Starting from a position of laziness and being in a hurry, Clarke’s cold recipe (that he in turn had borrowed from yet another cocktail guru, David Wondrich) seemed like a good place to start.  It worked so well that I decided to stick with that one until it fails me, so here’s the recipe:

  • 1 cup + 1 oz. Bakers’ Sugar
  • 1 cup Pomegranate juice (POM works well)
  • 1 oz. Vodka (as a preservative)

In a large jar, combine the cup of Pomegranate juice with the cup of Bakers’ Sugar and the Vodka.  Screw on the lid and shake well until the sugar is dissolved (it’s okay to take a break or two).  Add the final ounce of sugar and shake once more until it’s dissolved.  Keep refrigerated.

Santa arrives early as Utah DABC rolls out sales for December 2012

A Rob Roy cocktail will put some blended Scotch to good use
When Utahans walk into the Utah DABC State Liquor Stores this month, they will expect to see Santa on the way out the door.  There are over 550 items on Special Price Adjustments (SPA) 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.)  Need a Christmas gift for Dad (or Mom)? Don’t forget to look at the gift items that are often 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 for about 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.

Let’s start with the Whiskeys: There are 50 Whiskeys on SPA this month, so it’s a great opportunity to stock up. 15 different Bourbons:  Most of the major brands are represented; try Buffalo Trace, or there are single barrel offerings from Blanton, Eagle Rare, and Evan Williams.  Four Irish that normally retail around $25 are available. Bulleit 95 Rye Whiskey is marked down for Christmas; my friends and I almost killed a whole bottle Saturday, so it’s time to stock up. Try it in a Rye cocktail like the Scofflaw Cocktail.  There are 21 Single Malt and Blended Scotches marked down, including Glenlivet French Oak 15 year.  This is your big chance to cheer up and impress the old man.

Now is your chance to stock up on your favorite Liqueurs or buy them as gifts.  Di Saronno Amaretto ($23) and a favorite for cocktails, Amaretto Di Amore ($11), are both marked down.  Godiva Chocolate Liqueur ($27) and Kahlua Coffee Liqueur ($17) are on SPA, along with a variety of Irish Cream Liqueurs (great gifts for light drinkers) and Liqueurs like Alize and Midori.  A favorite Triple Sec substitute: Gran Gala Orange Liqueur ($20) is on SPA, or feel free to go upscale with Grand Marnier ($37).  Surprisingly, there is a shortage of Rums on sale this month.  Appleton Estates VX Jamaica Rum is the best of the bunch; sadly there are no high-end premium Rums to put under your tree.

If your Mom is a Gin lover, you can make her happy this holiday season.  This month there is a variety of Gins marked down, most of the good ones between 10 and 15%.  Gins with price adjustments include offerings from Bombay Sapphire®, Tanqueray®, Beefeater®, and even the surprisingly good, bargain Gin: New Amsterdam for $12.  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.  Oh, and there are 31 non-flavored Vodkas marked down this month too, if that’s your thing.

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.  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.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Celebrate Repeal Day with a Scofflaw Cocktail

The Scofflaw Cocktail is a great way to celebrate Repeal Day
The term “scofflaw” originated during Prohibition to describe people who drank in spite of the fact that liquor had been outlawed.  Shortly afterward, in the same year, the Scofflaw Cocktail was created at Harry’s Bar in Paris.  Harry’s, luckily for them, probably was able to use better quality liquor than was available in Prohibition era America.  Harry’s Bar, in case you’re interested, is still in business at 5 rue Daunou in Paris, serving drinks to (what seemed to me) a mostly Parisian crowd.  Stop in when you’re in the neighborhood (1st arrondissement).

Several years later the cocktail appeared in the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), one of the classic cocktail books written at the height of Prohibition by the great Harry Craddock, barman at The American Bar in the Savoy Hotel, London.  The Savoy book has been the source for many delicious, classic cocktails, and the Scofflaw is another one that will remain in my cocktail repertoire. 

When the time came to select ingredients, Noilly Prat Vermouth seemed like a logical choice for this cocktail of French origin, although you could use Dolin or your favorite.  Noilly Prat has long been available in Utah, but why talk about Utah?  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. 

Utahans, especially in the liberal hotbed of Salt Lake City, are proud of Utah’s link to Repeal Day.  Repeal was a plank in the Democratic Party platform in 1932, and FDR’s campaign promised to support it.  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.   So when you celebrate Repeal Day, drink a toast to the state that put the Repeal of Prohibition over the top for all America.

The Utah DABC improved their Rye selection last year by adding Bulleit Rye to their list.  At around $25 the Bulleit is a nice, medium-priced Rye that improves a lot of my cocktails.  Of course, if you really want to show support for Utah, you could spring for one of Park City, Utah’s High West Ryes that could improve your Scofflaw and your celebration of Repeal Day.

Scofflaw Cocktail
  • 1 ½ oz. Rye Whiskey (Bulleit)
  • 1 ½ oz. Dry Vermouth (Noilly Prat)
  • ¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ oz. grenadine
  • 1 dash Orange Bitters

Pour ingredients into a shaker ¾ full of ice.  Shake hard until your shaker frosts up. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, drape a lemon twist gracefully over the edge of the glass, and enjoy while being thankful for the post-prohibition quality of your booze.