Champagne is the go-to beverage of Valentine’s Day, but many myths surround the bubbly beverage. Here to help is Champagne master and sommelier Jennifer Foucher, who has sourced 103 different Champagnes for her menu at Proof. You’ll find an extended by-the-glass selection in the restaurant for Valentine’s Day—celebrated Friday through Sunday—as well as 25-percent-off bubbles in the lounge area. Want to pop a bottle at home? Foucher offers tips for buying, storing, and serving Champagne, and helps to demystify the drink. Our favorite takeaway? There’s no need to save it for a special occasion. “Champage is for Tuesday. Champagne is for the morning. Champagne is for lunch,” Foucher says. Read on for more of her advice.
Myth: All sparkling wine is Champagne.
We’ve all seen the ads touting bottomless “Champagne” brunch. But unless you’re at a swanky spot like the Four Seasons, chances are you’re drinking Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco, or American sparkling wine, the three other most common kinds of bubbles. True Champagne must come from the Champagne region of France and follow specific production methods dating back centuries. Even non-experts can often taste the difference. Basically Champagne is to sparkling wine what Kleenex is to facial tissue: a particular brand (or in wine’s case, designation) whose name is often misused to describe the product as a whole.
Myth: All Champagne is expensive.
Unlike other sparkling wines, you won’t find many Champagnes offered in the $10 to $20 range, but you also don’t need to drop $75 to $100 for a good bottle. Foucher loves producers from the Aube “department” (or area) of Champagne, which is less well-known but offers top-quality wines from smaller estates. One of her more moderately priced favorites is Dosnon & Lepage, which you can find for $40 at MacArthur Beverages. If you’re willing to spend a bit more, look for Coessens Champagne Blanc de Noir and Jacquesson Cuvée 736, which generally retail between $50 and $60.
Myth: Veuve Clicquot is as good as it gets.
The bottles Foucher likes from Aube tend to be “grower Champagnes,” which means they’re produced by the same vineyard that grows the grapes. Like meats or cheeses from smaller farms, these wines tend to have more individual character than mass-produced labels like Veuve. Foucher doesn’t consider the latter a bad buy, but advises staying away from budget-y large-production bottles such as Moët Imperial and Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top, which are priced similarly to the suggestions above but offer a lower quality. One of the larger producers she recommends: Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé, which you can find in many liquor stores and wine shops for around $90.
As with the Champagnes themselves, Foucher gravitates toward smaller wine shops for her purchases. Some of the best for Champagnes she’s found in the area: MacArthur Beverages in the Palisades, Arrowine in Arlington and on K Street, and Cork Market on 14th Street.
Myth: Champagne pairs well with strawberries.
“Champagne is great with just about everything except dessert and spicy food,” says Foucher. Though Champagne and strawberries are a frequent pairing, brut (dry) bubbly doesn’t taste as good after biting into a sweet berry or hunk of chocolate. “You don’t want the wine to be drier than than the food,” says Foucher. If you’re planning to pair sparkling with desserts, go for demi-sec (semi-dry) or Prosecco, which runs sweeter.
Myth: Buy Champagne chilled and store it in the fridge.
It’s tempting to grab a cold bottle from the wine-store fridge, but Foucher warns that the bottles may have been sitting in there for months. That means the fragile corks may have dried out, which will make the bubbly taste stale. The same thing can happen at home, so store your bottle away from light, heat, and vibration (read: not the kitchen). An hour in the fridge won’t hurt once it’s time to chill, or fill an ice bucket.
Myth: Champagne should be served in flutes.
Flutes may feel festive, but Foucher prefers drinking quality Champagne from white-wine glasses. Flutes make it difficult to smell the wine or swirl air into the glass, which allows the wine to breathe and develop its flavor. (Yes, you can swirl Champagne just like a fine Cab.) Coupes are another common vehicle, but Foucher finds that the wine loses its bubbles faster. If you do find yourself sipping from a coupe, here’s a fun Valentine’s Day legend: The glasses were originally modeled after Marie Antoinette’s breast.
Combined-in-advance mixers have long been the secret to fast service at high-volume bars, but only recently have we begun to see premade cocktails poured from a tap.
“Kegging” a batch of a restaurant’s specialty drinks ensures consistency—the only skill that the on-duty bartender needs is the ability to pour—and the draft cocktails often cost a few dollars less than their à la minute counterparts.
Here, five of our favorites.
El Codo Margarita from El Chucho
3313 11th St., NW; 202- 290-3313
Five bucks—four during the weekday happy hour (4 to 6:30 and all night Monday)—buys you an excellent on-tap house margarita at this Columbia Heights Mexican spot. Made with silver tequila, Triple Sec, and lime juice, it’s refreshing and balanced—just right with the menu’s unfussy tacos and tortas.
A Draft of Route 74 from Jackson 20
480 King St., Alexandria; 703-842-2790
Head bartender Dean Feddaoui will serve you an $11 refresher of watermelon water, lime, and orgeat (almond syrup with orange-flower water) poured from a tap crowned with a bobblehead of Andrew Jackson, for whom the restaurant is named. Feddaoui adds vodka and orange liqueur just before serving, but customers are also welcome to sip the concoction booze-free for $7.
Lemonade Punch from Kapnos
2201 14th St., NW; 202-234-5000
Taha Ismail developed three draft punches ($11) for Mike Isabella’s new Greek restaurant. Skinos, a floral Greek liqueur, forms the basis of a cocktail with watermelon, tarragon, and lemon. The gin ade—with Batavia Arrack, honey, thyme, and soda—gets a hint of smoke from a grilled lemon. Rum plus lemon-verbena tea, lemon, cane syrup, and angostura bitters make up the elegant third option, our favorite of the lot.
Sage-and-Green-Apple Gin and Tonic from Mockingbird Hill and Red Apron Butcher
Mockingbird Hill, 1843 Seventh St., NW, 202-316-9396; Red Apron Butcher, 1309 Fifth St., NE, 202-524-6807
Sage and tart apple complement the locally made Green Hat gin’s fennel notes in this effervescent debut from Brigade—a collaboration between Passenger/Columbia Room owner Derek Brown, bartender J.P. Fetherston, and a few of their friends. Find it for $9 at Brown’s new sherry bar, Mockingbird Hill, and for $9 at the Union Market location of the charcuterie shop Red Apron Butcher.
On-Tap Sangría from Hogo
1017 Seventh St., NW; 202-393-1313
At the easygoing tiki bar Hogo—run by Passenger co-owner Tom Brown—general manager Julia Ebell developed this slightly fizzy, island-inspired red-wine mixer with ginger, hibiscus, and lime juice ($8). Ebell’s drink is less intense than the typical tropical cocktail, but she sneaks in those citrus and spice notes to winning effect.
This article appears in the October 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
It’s October 1, and the bad news is your government has failed you. The good news: It’s also World Sake Day, and sake is awesome.
How to celebrate? Tiffany Soto, the beverage director at Pabu Izakaya in the Four Seasons Baltimore, is ramping up her sake education program in October, when the brewing season typically begins. On October 5 and 12, she’ll teach her Sake 101 class; Sake 102 classes—for the slightly more advanced student—will be held on the 19th and 26th. The first class covers types of sake, how they’re made, regions, etc. In the second class, you’ll learn how to pair sake with food, among other things.
In addition to those full-length sessions, Soto will be teaching a short, complimentary lesson during a monthlong sake happy hour showcasing sake cocktails and discounts on glasses and bottles of the Japanese brewed beverage.
Every year around this time, our enthusiasm for beer reaches a fever pitch. You can celebrate the season with Oktoberfest events, of course, or just stock up on all those pumpkin beers on the market. Alternatively, you can take a local approach and tour a nearby brewery. Here’s the skinny on six Washington-area beer-making facilities open to the public.
3178-B Bladensburg Rd., NE; 202-621-8890
Free tours and tastings most Saturdays (call ahead) noon to 4.
“Growler hours” coincide with tours of this Northeast production brewery—fill up 32- or 64-ounce containers of beers.
Sandwiched between the White House and Farragut North, Equinox is a natural spot for downtown workers to wait out traffic with a cocktail and a snack, but the restaurant, owned by chef Todd Gray and his wife, Ellen, has always felt more appropriate for a celebratory tasting dinner than a quick drink. The couple are hoping to change that with the hire of Steve Oshana, the newly appointed corporate beverage manager for their restaurant group, which also includes Watershed, Muse at the Corcoran, and the food options at the just-opened Salamander Resort and Spa in Middleburg, Virginia. Oshana recently resigned from the bar at nearby BLT Steak, where he played around with barrel-aged drinks and house-made cordials while maintaining the steakhouse chain’s classic vibe. Over the past couple of years, BLT has attracted a healthy bar crowd who regularly pop in for that restaurant’s 5 at 5 happy hour, featuring some very good food and drink specials.
For the Grays, Oshana will create seasonal drinks based on the classics that will pair well with Equinox's Mid-Atlantic-inspired food. Options will extend to their catering program—customers will be able to customize the boozy offerings at their events, according to Oshana. Chef de cuisine Colin McClimans is developing some bar bites in keeping with the restaurant’s lunch and dinner menus, including house-made sausages that he’s smoking in the alley behind the restaurant. Ellen Gray says she’d like to see some lighter cocktails to go with the house-made sodas at the restaurant. In addition, Oshana is planning to develop some dessert drinks—spins on Irish coffee and so forth—to pair with confections by pastry chef Brandi Edinger.
Oshana says he’ll also ramp up the drinking options at Muse, the cafe the Grays operate in the lobby of the Corcoran. Down the road, look for weekly cocktail receptions on Wednesdays, when the Corcoran stays open until 9, and new “brunchy” cocktail options during the vegan Sunday brunch buffet.
We’ll update with an Equinox happy hour menu when it’s available.
The fifth annual DC Beer Week began August 11, and there’s all sorts of stuff happening at local bars and breweries. One way to get in on the fun: Head out to sample Solidarity Summer Ale, a collaboration between brewers in the District, Virginia, and Maryland. The project was overseen by Barrett Lauer, head brewer at District ChopHouse & Brewery, and Bill Madden of Mad Fox Brewing Company in Falls Church; beermakers Gordon Biersch, 3 Stars Brewing, DC Brau, Capitol City Brewing, Atlas Brew Works, Rock Bottom Bethesda, the Brewer’s Art, Lost Rhino, and Port City Brewing each contributed water from their breweries. It was made at DC Brau’s facility at 3178 Bladensburg Road, Northeast.
To ensure yourself a sip of this rare brew—only 30 barrels were made—head to one of the following events.
Bourbon Steak’s lounge feels like more of a go-to Manhattan spot than the place to quaff piña coladas, but wait until you try barkeep Duane Sylvestre’s version. The Trinidadian knows his island drinks, and knows they are often stereotyped as overly fruity, saccharine, and awash in artificial ingredients. Sylvestre’s take on the Puerto Rican cocktail is free of all of the above, and crafted with quality rum, fresh lemon juice, and house-made coconut crème.
The key is the crème—a simple syrup made with puréed coconut—which stands in for commercial coconut creams such as the ubiquitous Coco López. If you’re mixing up the cocktail for National Piña Colada Day (which is today), you may opt for the first method, which is slightly more involved and uses a whole coconut. You can also order high-quality frozen coconut purée on Amazon.com for future shortcuts. The recipe serves one, but you may as well whip up enough for a party while you’re at it—just keep the ratios intact. Sylvestre makes one large batch a day and pours each serving over crushed ice.
A word of warning from Sylvestre: “It’s a lot of booze that goes down easily, so be careful. This is not what they served you on your beach vacation.”
It’s officially summer: the days are getting longer, the workload lighter, and the chances of slipping out for an afternoon drink significantly higher. Luckily, several restaurants and bars take the “five o’clock somewhere” seriously attitude and offer afternoon discounts for thirsty patrons well before the sun goes down. Check out these 11 spots, all ready to liquor you up before the clock strikes 4. (Note that many also serve discounted drinks during regular evening happy hours as well.) Have a favorite daytime watering hole? Tell us about it in the comments.
Wednesday, June 19, is National Martini Day, and I vote we skip the customary preamble about how it’s always national something day and just revel in the fact that we live in the world’s best city for drinking martinis.
I’m not claiming our bars make the best martinis—that would be a highly contestable statement. What I’m saying is, no drink says “Washington” like a martini. It’s what you drink when you’re a fat-cat lobbyist about to close a power deal. What lawyers and consultants order when wooing deep-pocketed clients. When you’re an elected official about to initiate an ill-advised affair with an intern, what cocktail do you buy that intern? That’s right: a martini. Without further ado, here are five places to get one.
Update: The restaurant sends word that the new space will not open until Friday, June 14 at dinner.
When the marg-and-guac craving strikes, the bar at Oyamel is the no-brainer spot to soothe the itch. But there’ve never been enough stools to go around. Six years ago, José Andrés moved his Crystal City Mexican spot to Penn Quarter, luring Verizon Center and Shakespeare Theatre Company patrons who have packed into its all-too-small bar area ever since.
To accommodate the masses, Andrés has added a new 900-square-foot lounge. Earlier this year, the restaurateur purchased the shuttered ticket office next door and gutted it—Oyamel now flows into this adjacent space. The new lounge offers brightly colored banquettes, black leather settee-style sofa booths, and a private dining “enclave” with Louis XV ghost chairs by Philippe Starck. All told, it accommodates 42 more margarita drinkers, and should help slash wait times for tables. Certainly it will cut down on the awkwardness of waiting for a spot in the dining room—the newly elongated white acrylic bar now wraps into this lounge-esque space with double the walnut-wood bar stools.
This new environment—a creative collaboration between Andrés and Georgetown-based architects Peter Hapstak and Olvia Demetriou—evolves Oyamel’s signature butterfly motif with holographic video projections shining through sheer partitions between each booth and a mural of butterflies fluttering around a woman’s hair that encompasses the dining enclave.
Go see the new space starting Thursday at lunch.