Sunday, September 28, 2008

France's First Bubbly

One of my favorite blogs for keeping up with all matters luxurious is Luxist. Deidre Woollard is most prolific; I'm a fan because she seems to love champagne as much as I do. She wrote an interesting post on a new book y James Crowden that suggests champagne may have actually been a British invention. This theory is not new; but according to the new book Ciderland, British scientist Christopher Merrett in 1662 or so figured out adding sugar and molasses to still wine from Champagne would make it fizzy; he also started using stronger glass to keep the bottle from exploding.

Many people do believe that Dom Perignon, the nearly-blind monk who toiled making wine in the Abbey of Hautvillers invented sparkling wine in the Champagne region around 1700. He's reputed to have said: Come quickly brothers, I'm drinking stars" upon his discovery. Whether he uttered this romantic phrase or not, he didn't invent champagne. It was a natural result of bottling wine in the cold Champagne region before the wine had finished fermenting. In the spring when it warmed up, the wine started fermenting again and the bubbles were trapped inside the bottle. Dom Perignon was a brilliant winemaker and marketer; since it was nearly impossible to keep the bubbles out of wines, he decided to turn them into an asset rather than a flaw. In 1921, Moet et Chandon chose his name for their tete de cuvee.

Actually, sparkling wines were being made on purpose in the southern French region Languedoc since 1531, more than 100 years before Dom Perignon was even born. The Benedictine monks at the Abbey Saint-Hilaire near the town of Limoux made a wine they called Blanquette de Limoux using the local Mauzac grape. Today, the sparkling wines of Limoux - Blanquette and Cremant - are some of the best secret value sparkling wines in France. The Antech Cuvee Francoise Blanquette de Limoux is highly regarded and sells for under $13 at K & L. If you like your wines green, then check out the Bernard Delmas Blanquette de Limoux, a vegan and organic wine made from a blend of Mauzac and Chardonnay grapes.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Miss Flo and The Court of Two Sisters

Walking around the French Quarter and seeing people of all colors having fun seemed like the most natural thing during my visit this summer. But I was surprised to learn from a native that for many years, people of color were not allowed to go there if they were not going to work.

So it was all the more impressive to meet Floria Woodard, the diva of the bartending staff at The Court of Two Sisters, a restaurant established back in 1832!! After three visits and three hot sweaty walks over into the French Quarter, I finally caught up with her. Miss Flo as the staff call her, is a legend around the Court of Two Sisters. She's been tending bar longer than I've been alive. She started working on the floor in the late 60s, helping to integrate the waitstaff as a hostess. Later she started working behind the bar and hasn't looked back.

Though the names of many classic New Orleans drinks like the Sazerac and Mint Julep are posted on the wall behind the bar, most of the visitors ask for sweet and potent concoctions like Hurricanes, Pina Coladas and Miss Flo's own fruity creation: The Bayou Bash. Whatever you order, she serves it up with knowledgeable bartender banter and a "here you go sugar" as she passes the drink across the bar. After interviewing her about her craft and watching her work a crowd of tourists who stopped in on a bar tour, I ordered a Ramos Gin Fizz for the walk back to the hotel. The icy, gin milk shake with a hint of orange flower water was the perfect foil for the heat and made for a pleasant memory of the woman who made it. Let's pray that the next hurricane on the way bypasses the Crescent City.