Throughout most of the 19th century Champagne was made sweet. My predecessors in champagne preference didn’t mind a bit of the sugar added by winemakers, even if the sugar was being added to cover up poor grape quality.
As the overall quality of champagne wine improved, rendering sugar less necessary, some enthusiasts developed a taste for less sweet varieties – half dry, or demi-sec.
I suppose it was inevitable that someone would come along with an incongruously titled ‘dry’ drink, and indeed in 1846 Champagne house Perrier-Jouët introduced a champagne with no added sugar. At first it was deemed a brute of a drink, but over time, this extra dry brut style grew in popularity. It remains the most popular to this day.
Now, I don’t usually think that Champagne needs any enhancement whatsoever. But when a good Champagne cocktail crosses my path, I am certainly not one to turn up my nose. I’m no purist. So my obvious drink of choice when I went to the reliably delightful bar at the Geneva Intercontinental this weekend was the house Champagne cocktail.
It’s made with Champagne, a cube of brown sugar nestled in the bottom of the glass, a shot of cognac and a graceful spiral of orange peel. The charming young man who brought us our cocktails explained that a sparkling cocktail is always gently stirred, not shaken.
For me, the subtle addition of cognac to Champagne is truly an enhancement. As the drink sits (admittedly, not for very long), the sugar cube is slowly crumbled by the gentle force of the Champagne bubbles. By the time I get to the bottom of the glass, there is a delicious sugary cognac sludge with a tang of dry Champagne and orange.
Is there some deeper message to be taken away from the irony of adding sugar to dry Champagne that has been intentionally made without sugar? I have decided the question deserves no further examination other than its mention.