The Best Vinegar I Ever Drank

I guess it’s no surprise that today is National Champagne Day. According to WalletHub and International Business Times, an average of 360 million glasses of bubbly is drunk today and 25% of all champagne/sparkling wines are sold between Christmas and New Years (sidenote: these numbers are from the early 2010s but research is very scarce on the subject).

And why not? It’s fun, it’s fancy, and seems to hold the promise of better things ahead.

Like Bordeaux, Burgundy–and scotch and bourbon for that matter–there are some very clear cut guidelines as to which wines may legally call themselves champagne*. Namely, they have to be made in the Champagne region of France–just northwest of Paris, if you’re wondering. Additionally, there are only a handful of grapes that can be used Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunièr are the three most used grapes, but Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris may also be used, as well as specific methods of fermentation. Visit Comíte Champagne if you wanna read all about it.

*there are a few notable exceptions that were grandfathered in before the rules went into effect, like Korbel, Andre, and Cook’s from California.

And while I’m over all not a big wine snob, I do have to admit that I am a bit of a champagne snob. Not that I don’t like a good Cava or Prosecco. But they’re not champagne. There is just something smooth, comforting, and decadent about the real stuff. And I 100% acknowledge that it is all in my head–and in a blind tasting I couldn’t tell the real stuff from a really good sparkling wine. I like to pretend I could, but I certainly wouldn’t put any money on that!

That being said there is something extra special about Dom Pérignon and over the years I have had the good fortune to try several vintages. So this Christmas when my boss gave me bottle of 1985 I was over the moon and so excited to try it.

We discovered it last summer, hidden away in the far reaches of her parents’ wine bar and no one seemed to know how it got there (to be fair, her parents are in their mid-90s and I have trouble remembering what I ate yesterday let alone what was happening 30 years ago, so no judgements here!)–thus when it was bequeathed to me it was with the caveat that it could be good or not.

It was Dom. I was willing to take that chance! I knew it was either going to be the best thing I ever drank or a goddamn tragedy!

While it was chilling I pulled out my Dom glasses–because what else would you drink Dom out of?!?

I tried not get too excited as I peeled back the foil ever-so-gently. The cork looked good, there wasn’t any leakage, and I felt a tingling of excitement stirring like champagne soaked butterflies in my stomach. I slowly untwist the wire from the cork and my heart sank. Rather than a tight cork or one slowly pushing its way out of the bottle, it just jiggled.

I lifted it out, morbidly admiring the shrunken dark cork and trying hard not to cry. I peered down into the bottle looking at the sediment accumulated along the side of the bottle. I pulled the bottle to my nose, sniffing tentatively. Vinegar.

Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.

Out of sheer curiosity, I poured a half glass (I mean, I pulled down the Dom glasses–it would be a shame not to use them at all!). It was a very rich dark yellow color with the tiniest bubbles in the bottom of the glass. I figured what the hell and took a sip.

It was by far the tastiest vinegar I had ever had, with notes of toasted almond and vanilla that to me suggests that had it not been corked, it would have been a stellar glass of champagne.

In the wise words of my boss’s father: c’est la mort! And a good reminder that you don’t always have to save the good stuff for “a special occasion in the future.” Sometimes it is so much better to have that special occasion just be a Tuesday.

Happy New Years, ya’ll and best wishes for a wonderful and prosperous 2020!

Bloody Sundays

It must be Sunday, as I find myself parked on a barstool at my favorite spot down the street to partake in what I believe to be the best bloody mary on the planet.

I know, I know, you’re thinking it’s just because it’s garnished with a big o’ piece of bacon, but no. The bacon is the just icing on the cake. Without it, this drink easily holds it own the world of breakfast beverages. And that’s saying something because I have long been searching for the perfect bloody mary and, for me, this is it.

The key to this–and any good bloody mary–is the balance of spices and flavors. Often times, I find that in an effort to not taste like tomato juice and vodka, the barkeep will load up on the Tabasco sauce and call it a day. While I appreciate a good dash or two of Tabasco, I don’t want to just taste “hot” in my drink and sit there with my mouth on fire just for the fun of it. I want to taste flayvah. And this one from The Craft House on little ol’ Staten Island packs a punch. It is well worth the ferry ride over or paying the exorbitant tolls on the Verrazano or Goethals Bridges to get to the Island of Staten. Thankfully, I just have to walk down the hill.

According to the menu (so I don’t think I’m giving away any trade secrets here), it is:

signature spiced tomato base over Tito’s vodka, topped with BBQ rubbed rim, pickled cucumber, string bean, and smokey applewood bacon

And now you’re thinking Texas vodka + bacon…that’s why she loves it, but again, no. Although I will always take a moment to say GOTEXAS!

Basically, it’s the whole drink. Which I know you’re probably thinking is a cop out, but it’s true (that it’s the whole drink, not that it’s a cop out!). “Signature spiced tomato base” does not accurately describe the layers you get in this drink. It is bold, yet smooth. It is spicy, yet the tomato sweet. And when you drink from the BBQ rubbed rim, it adds yet another layer: smokiness. Plus the pickles and string beans have a bit of kick to them and the bacon adds a bit of crunch (plus bacony goodness!). The overall effect is a deliciously flavorful, smooth drink with a nice hearty kick at the end.

Also, it pairs well with their cajun seasoned shrimp and parmesan grits with garlic butter…just sayin’…

The Craft House is located at 60 Van Duzer Street, Staten Island, NY 10301. For more information and their menus, click here. And if you make the trek out, you never have to worry about drinking alone: I will happily meet you there!

Cheers!