I remember when it was easy to buy two of my favorite beverages, Champagne and Cognac. A few decades ago you could hardly go wrong with either no matter the brand available. They were the perfect start and finish to any evening. The big brands were the best brands and wines like Veuve Clicquot Brut and spirits like Remy Martin were liquids to be contemplated, not just quaffed. Today these labels are more suitable for cocktails than snifters or flutes and are both brands to be avoided as bad values.
I always like to have bubbly in the fridge and enjoying an effervescent glass while cooking is a nightly preference. Lately, in addition to Venegazzu Prosecco, I’ve been buying the Spanish Cava brand Cristalino in both its Brut and Brut Rose versions at $7 a bottle and in all honesty prefer them both to Veuve Clicquot Brut. Many nights I also have a weakness for adding a dollop of Campari to my nightly bubbly aperitif and the Cristalino Brut is both financially and spiritually open to this experience. While the Clicquot is equally refreshing and enjoyable with Campari, the fact that it is five times the price makes the experience at least ten times less enjoyable. Buying Clicquot is getting way up there on the list of wines to buy only if you don’t know what you’re doing.
At the end of a rich dinner, few things are more necessary than a spirit to spur the digestion. That’s as good of a rationalization as any for letting yourself enjoy the warmth and good feelings brought to you by a fine brandy. It used to be that Remy Martin V.S.O.P was the most reliable Cognac around as it was widely available, reasonably priced and of excellent quality. Unfortunately, somewhere over the last twenty years Remy V.S.O.P. devolved into a warm caramel syrup. Today there are few large Cognac producers worth their weight in the caramelized sugar product known these days as Cognac. While there are some wonderful small producers in Cognac, there is only one direction to turn for fine French brandy: Armagnac. For some reason this region has never become cool enough to push prices out of range, while simultaneously pushing down quality. Over the holidays I picked up a bottle of the 1974 Bas Armagnac, Domaine Le Basque an exceptional estate bottled spirit from Christiane & Michel Lamothe for a bit more than Remy V.S.O.P. and a bit less than the Remy X.O. and in comparison this earthy, fragrant spirit makes Remy look like industrial brandy from California.
Drinking Remy and Clicquot used to make me feel stupid if I drank too much. Now they make me feel stupid to buy them at all.