The plain old Champagne Cocktail is a classic from a bygone era that has remained unchanged since it was invented in the 1800's. Back then, all you did was drop a sugar cube into a flute, douse it with a few dashes of bitters, add bubbly and maybe garnish with a piece of lemon peel. There's not much to it. The sugar cube generates bubbles as it dissolves, more or less carrying the scent and flavor of the bitters throughout. You would be forgiven if you decided not to sacrifice good sparkling wine to this process. Even if it sounds exciting, you might not notice the effect which is probably why you don't see anyone drinking these. At some point, folks started adding other ingredients to give sparkling cocktails a bit more interest. For example, the Casino Cocktail includes a cognac float, and the Kir Royale skips the sugar and bitters opting for liqueur instead. Almost any liqueur will produce interesting results, and so will some base spirits.
We like to have sparkling wine chilling in the fridge for special (or even not so special) occasions, but we don't use it often enough in cocktails. You have to commit to drinking the bottle when you pop the cork—unless we can share the experience, the bottle remains unopened. So, when we spot a drink on a menu featuring Cava, Prosecco, or even local bubbles, we take notice. It happened during a recent visit to Ataula, a favorite restaurant here in Portland, OR. The Elixir de Amontillado was a created by Angel Teta, the mastermind behind the bar. Angel regularly updates the drink menu at Ataula, so if this is missing, she might still be able to make one upon request. Her recipe adds a nutty twist to the old classic and we loved it so much we asked if we could share her creation with our readers.
Elixir de Amontillado by Angel Teta
1.66 oz Amontillado sherry
.5 oz nocino
3 dashes Scrappy's chocolate bitters
4 oz dry sparkling white wine
Stir in a chilled flute and top with dry, ice cold cava or brut.
Angel uses the metric system, but we don't hold that against her: She's also making kick-ass sangria with sous vide brandy—as far as we're concerned, she's the one coming up with the incredible drink recipes—so she can do whatever the hell she wants. For those of us who are still using imperial measurements, we did the conversion. Do the best you can to measure 1 and 2/3 ounces of Amontillado (Angel uses Hidalgo Napoleon) and keep your bubbly volume to about 4 ounces.
The type of sherry is important. Amontillado is dry—darker and richer than a fino, though not quite an oloroso. The second ingredient is nocino, an Italian liqueur we've featured before made from unripe walnuts. Those Italians know all kinds of tricks when it comes to making delicious liqueur! Angel likes to use Toschi, but we had success with Nux Alpina as well as our own homemade nocino (so easy to make). Different brands will obviously affect the outcome but we doubt any nocino will result in a bad drink.
The last item is the bitters. We didn't have any Scrappy's, but we did make our own chocolate bitters once upon a time. You can too by soaking cacao nibs in alcohol for a few days. The resulting tincture can be used as-is or sweetened and diluted slightly with optional spices added. Look, this isn't a post about making chocolate bitters—other brands are out there if you can't find Scrappy's—but with a little imagination you can still make a great drink. Just don't leave them out!
You might not think white wine, walnuts, sherry and chocolate would work together, but it does. Sherry is already a fortified wine product, and its oxidized character pairs well with nocino and chocolate. The prickly bubbles of the wine help to balance and elongate the sweetness of the nocino which draws your attention initially before the sherry takes over for a long, nutty finish. It's a nice sipper that is better than the sum of its parts. The biggest problem we find with Champagne cocktails is keeping them cold. Refrigerate your sherry and put your flute in the freezer for a while before you start. Every bit helps since this drink is not stirred with ice. Obviously, your bubbly should be ice cold. We used Sokol Blosser Evolution Brut, a wonderful Willamette Valley offering, and now we will have to finish the whole bottle. We can't be too sad about that. Salud!