I’m not really a cocktail person. This is not to say I don’t like them. I do. At least, some of them. I have a particular failing for anything involving Campari, for example. And when my fancy-pants, rather cultured younger brother who has been off studying in London made Pimm’s cup for my family this summer, well, I could easily have polished off the entire pitcher myself. But, I am no good at remembering the names of cocktails or what’s in them or anything much about most of them. So, if one of you asked me for a Manhattan while another asked me for an Old Fashioned, I’d probably bumble off, think for a moment, and then come back with gin and tonics for both of you. And, as I approach a bar I get more and more flustered until I reach the critical moment when the bartender (or, should I say, mixologist) asks me what I’d like and then I usually order something like an, “ummm, uhh, oh gosh, um, I don’t know. Um, what do you have? Oh, right you have everything, well how about an um, what’s it called, an um, I’ll have a gin and tonic.” I am fond of the gin and tonic simply because its name, while relatively uncreative, tells you exactly what it is and therefore I can remember it.
Because of my ineptitude with mixed drink taxonomy, on the occasions when I do meet a friend after work for a cocktail or decide I need something special for toasting with, I really appreciate those places that have specialty drinks created by them and listed conveniently on a menu complete with names and what is in them. What a concept! Under the tutelage of such drink menus, I have been able to sip incredible concoctions with things in them that I would never have thought to order otherwise. Things like St. Germain, Campano Antico Formula, grapefruit and cardamom, the ever beloved Campari, and house made ginger beer. Good gracious, this makes me sound like a lush! I’m not even sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing in the context of this conversation, but I’m going to go ahead and admit that my average cocktail consumption usually hovers around 4 or 5 per year.
Anyhow, amongst all of those, this beauty is one of my favorites. The only one thus far, in fact, that stayed with me so persistently that I eventually realized I just had to try making it myself at home. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a champagne cocktail. What isn’t made better with champagne, pray tell? I have a special attachment to champagne-based aperitifs because the very first legitimate cocktail I ever had was a kir royale (champagne and black currant liqueur). It was when I very first arrived in Paris, with a friend who was visiting for the first week. We spent our first day wandering all over the city, and exhausted and ravenous we decided to stop for supper at 6 (which is at least 2 hours too early for supper by most Parisian standards). We were the only people in the restaurant we chose, except for the staff who were sitting around enjoying their own supper. A waiter asked if we wanted anything to drink while we waited for the kitchen to get up and running. In our fumbling French (though competent, neither of us yet felt comfortable, especially considering the usual speed at which French conversation barrels along) we grabbed at the drink that both of us remembered from some incredibly dorky French videos that we had had to watch in classes. “Des kirs royales?” “Ah, des kirs royales!” The waiter positively beamed and brought us our drinks. These we had on thoroughly empty stomachs, which of course served to make us feel much more comfortable with our French. By the time we actually managed to order our meal, we had become very good friends with all of the restaurant staff. And I’ve had a strong affection for champagne based cocktails ever since.
This bubbler bears very little relation to the dark syrupy flavor of a kir. The intense black currant is traded for more elegant and lighter fruit and herb flavors. But it shares the champagne spirit. It is inspired by a drink Joel and I had at a celebratory supper at our favorite neighborhood restaurant. The sparkling wine is laced with the haunting woody pungency of rosemary and brightened with sunny lemon. The rosemary flavor comes through subtly and beautifully by using a rosemary infused simple syrup, and the sweetness of the syrup tempers the tang of the lemon without over-sweetening the drink. It is perfectly balanced, refreshing and lively. I can’t think about it without also wanting to use the French word for sparkling, pétillant, as well because everything about it really does sparkle. I really hope you’ll give it a try for your next special occasion.
Rosemary Lemon Sparkler (2 drinks)
- 2 ounces rosemary simple syrup (see below)
- 2 ounces fresh squeezed lemon juice – Meyer or regular lemon
- a fairly nice (but not crazy expensive, after all, you’re doctoring it) dry champagne or prosecco
- 2 sprigs (small ones) of rosemary, to garnish
- Divide the the rosemary syrup and lemon juice between 2 champagne flutes. Stir. Fill the rest of the way with champagne. Garnish with little sprigs of rosemary. Sante!
Rosemary simple syrup:
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 4 4-5 inch, or so, pieces of fresh rosemary
- In a saucepan, combine the sugar, water, and rosemary. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Boil for one minute, then remove from the heat.
- Let sit for a half hour, then strain into a jar, removing the rosemary. Allow to cool completely, then chill before using. Obviously this makes far more rosemary syrup than you need for 2 drinks, but don’t worry, you’ll want to use it in all sorts of other drinks. Well, plus you need to use up that open bottle of champagne, so who wants to stop at just 1 drink for each of you?!