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.
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:
2 ounces cognac
1/2 ounce simple syrup (or 1 teaspoon superfine sugar)
1 ounce lemon juice
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.