Champagne and cognac are dress-up drinks in most people's minds. One gets trotted out at special occasions — weddings, graduations, New Year's Eve; the other conjures up images of velvet jackets, crackling fires, a faithful spaniel at one's feet. I'm exaggerating only slightly here.
But snifters and smoking jackets are not always required to enjoy brandies and sparkling wines— of which cognac and champagne are only the toniest subset. There are cocktails that may even benefit from using the more generic product. Put the two together, for that matter, and a multiplier effect can even take place.
The French 75
Many will insist this cocktail must be made with champagne and gin, and it's very good that way. But there are those iconoclasts who believe the drink, named for the French field gun that has been called the main weapon of WWI, is also good with cognac. In fact, it admits to a lot of subbing, so feel free to improvise. This drink is a staple at Lüke's bar and, if I recall correctly, they use an Italian prosecco.
2 oz cognac (I used Pierre Ferrand Ambre as it comes in splits.)
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 tbs simple syrup (I had agave nectar, so I used a scant tablespoon of that)
Champagne (I used a Spanish Cava)
Lemon twist garnish
Place first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, shake vigorously, strain into a chilled highball glass, fill glass with sparkling wine (start cautiously and test to make sure you can still taste the cognac; you can always add more bubbles). Garnish with the lemon twist.
The Glimmering Orchard
This one provides a pacifist alternative to the bellicose 75. But it, too, goes back into history, as it was designed to be made with a newly reformulated Pierre Ferrand cognac called 1840. Bottled at 90 proof (80 is more traditional), the 1840 is said to mimic grape blends and production styles that have changed in the intervening years and to be especially good in mixed drinks. I couldn't find it locally, so I simply upped the ratio of cognac to sparkling wine in the following recipe — which actually specified cava, prosecco, or New Mexico's Gruet. Poire liqueur isn't always easy to find, either. For this recipe, don't be tempted by the Marie Brizard version; it smells very peary but is a little cloying. I used one made by the Alsatian house, Trimbach; it, too, comes in a split size that makes the expense more tolerable.
1/2 oz Ferrand 1840 (I used 3/4 ounce of the Ferrand Ambre)
1/2 oz poire liqueur
Dry sparkling wine (I used the Cava again)
Candied ginger for garnish
Combine the cognac and liqueur in a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe or flute. Top with the sparkling wine. The recipe enigmatically said "Garnish with candied ginger," and simply dropping a small slice into a flute might work. Using a coupe instead, I chose to chop the ginger and coat the rim with it. And, as I had squeezed lemons for the above recipe, I added just a splash of lemon juice; it seemed to amplify the liquors without diminishing the cava. •