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Jul 1, 201012:00 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

The Unexpected

There are Anticipations. There are Disappointments. And there are Expectations.

Sometimes when we look forward so much to an event, no matter how terrific it is, we come away thinking that we’ve wasted a lot of time in the build-up. Don’t ask for examples. They are usually embarrassing.

Along those same lines –– but thankfully different –– are those times when we have no preconceived notion that we are going to really enjoy ourselves, and, pleasant surprise, we do.

For most of our adult lives, and for a few of us stretching waaaay back to the teen years, we have pigeon-holed certain drinks into certain seasons. Pimm’s Cups are all about hot summer days at Napoleon House, no matter where or when we have one. Champagne, while pretty darn good any time, really seems special over the end-of-year, first-of-year, Carnival seasons.

Then there’s cognac. Warm fire. Warm body next to yours. OK, now I think we’ve entered into those previously mentioned embarrassing moments. Well, maybe not.

Anyway, cognac has that connotation. Good after dinner. Good in cold weather. Good when you want to feel all better inside.

Just in case you are not up-to-speed on your cognac facts, the beverage is made from grapes and begins its life as a wine, hailing from the Cognac region of western France. The newly created wine is made from a varietal of grape, primarily ugni blanc, but folle blanche and colombard can be used to lesser percentage. The grapes are distilled (heated) in very large copper pots. The method is known as alembic. And it is all, even the style and size of the pots, controlled by French law. 

During the heating process, the liquid wine becomes condensation, which rises and flows through circular piping, where it cools and becomes liquid again. The first parts of the condensation and the last parts of the condensation are discarded, and only the “heart” of the vapor is captured. The resulting liquid is heated again, and again the first part and the last part of the condensation, called the heads and the tails, are discarded, with the heart again captured and placed into oak barrels.

This double-distillation process, capturing the heart of the heart, results in great cognac. But there’s more to be done. The cognac is then allowed to age. Sometimes the aging reaches up to 50 years, but mostly the cognac is aged from two to 10 years. During the aging process, there is much evaporation. And this disappearance of the product into the rafters of the cellar is known as the angels’ share.

The product that finishes is the incredibly elegant, quite tasty, enchanting liquid that comes in the bottle. It is an expensive drink because not only does the cognac house have to wait years for a return on its investment but also so much of the product is lost to evaporation.

However, the end result is beyond reconsideration. It’s simply liquid love.

There is still the minor matter of cognac being associated with winter, however, and that makes its prime time in our town short in duration.

So the folks who make cognac long ago enlisted the folks who make cocktails, and together they have come up with the perfect solution for all concerned: Involve cognac with a wide variety of mixers, and let the games begin.

For instance:

Cognac Summit Cocktail
1  zest of lime
4 thin slices fresh ginger
1.5 ounces cognac VSOP
2 ounces traditional lemonade, Sprite or 7Up
1 long piece cucumber peel

Prepare directly in an old-fashioned or rocks glass. Place the lime zest and ginger slices in the glass. Pour in .75 ounces of VSOP cognac. Lightly press the lime and ginger two to three times using a pestle or muddler. Half fill the glass with ice. Stir well for 5 seconds using a bar spoon. Pour in the remaining .75 ounces of VSOP cognac. Add 2 ounces of traditional lemonade (or Sprite or 7Up) and the cucumber peel. Stir well for 5 seconds using a bar spoon. Serve immediately.
Or how about this:

French 75
2 ounces cognac
1/2 ounce simple syrup (or 1 teaspoon superfine sugar)
1 ounce lemon juice
Brut champagne

Combine cognac, sugar and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously, and strain into two iced champagne flutes. Fill with champagne or sparkling wine.

Or check this one out:

One part cognac
One part Cointreau
One part lemon juice

Mix the ingredients in a shaker half-full of ice. Strain, and serve in a sugar-rimmed glass. Garnish with a strip of lemon rind.

Now you tell me, don’t those sound terrific? In hot weather, they are refreshing and cooling, plus they are easy to make. I’m a big fan of three- or four-ingredient cocktails –– gives me less chance to mess it all up.

You need to do a lot of research to determine if these classic proportions are correct. You may like more sugar. You may like a sweeter sparkling wine rather than a brut champagne.

It’s all about trial and error. That’s most of the fun. There are no wrong answers.

Your parents used to tell you that sixth grade, or whatever, up to senior year in high school, was the best time of your life. Those years may have been fun, but it was never this great.

The Wine Show with Tim McNally can be heard every Sunday from noon to 2 p.m. on WIST-AM 690.

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Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans


In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.


Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.


Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.


Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.


They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.


Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.


Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.


Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.


It’s a good gig. 




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