Grower Champagnes, from producers who once sold their wine to larger houses and now bottle it under their own labels, are more popular than ever. Instead of investing millions in advertising, product placement and gaudy point of sale, a number of these pioneering producers are releasing singular Champagnes under their own names—oftentimes for half the price.
Though I'll never refuse a glass of D.P. (as Dom Pérignon is affectionately referred to among circles who know it better than me), I'd rather not foot the cost of its stupendous marketing budget. So I went to a local fine wine retailer and picked up a bottle of Bérèche et Fils Les Beaux Regards Champagne for half the price for my New Year's celebration. Somms may shudder, but I bought the bubbly to create a cocktail for my guests and was taken aback by what ensued.
I assumed the classic Champagne cocktail prepared with bitters, a sugar cube and a twist of lemon would be the best template to accentuate the character of the wine, until I tasted it. My Chardonnay-driven Champagne had green apple, lemon and apricot notes with ginger, hazelnut and hint of white chocolate on the finish. The wine had laser-focused acidity, noble structure and a finish that lingered like Dominique Ansel's tarte tatin.
It hit me right then: Just as I'd approach a gin or whiskey cocktail, the mixers need to complement and accentuate the base ingredient, not obscure it. Adding a concentrated herbal tincture (bitters) would mask the character of my wine, while the lemon twist would coat the surface in an aromatic slick of citrus oil that would make it impossible to nose its heady kaleidoscope of complex aromas.
Using the French 75 formula, I substituted apple brandy (to accentuate the green apple notes) for gin and raw honey syrup for cane syrup to mimic the heathery notes in the Champagne. Instead of covering up the nose, I grated fresh nutmeg over the surface that yielded a perfumed sandalwood note, which brings out the cuvée's barrel ageing. By switching recipe templates, I can now make twice as many cocktails with one (extraordinarily rare) bottle, and my sommelier friends will still talk to me.
To learn more, read "The Cork Awakens."
Recipe from TT Drinks Editor Jim Meehan
Yield: 1 cocktail
Prep Time: N/A
Cook Time: N/A
Total Time: N/A
¾ ounce Laird's Apple Brandy
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
½ ounce raw honey syrup (1 part water to 1 part honey, boiled until the honey dissolves)
2½ ounces Bérèche et Fils Les Beaux Regards Champagne
Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish
1. Shake the first three ingredients with ice and fine-strain into a chilled coupe.
2. Top with the Champagne, garnish with nutmeg and serve.