The Italian Mistress

The Italian Mistress.I’m guessing that, even if you weren’t getting hammered specifically on Conhattans or Shamrock Sours last weekend, at least a few of you were overindulging. For your sake, I’m hoping you weren’t overdoing it on bad green beer (is there ever good green beer?) and, if you were doing shots, I’m hoping it was on the good Irish stuff. (I’m personally partial to Bushmills.)

All of that is now in the past, and it’s time to recuperate with a drink that — unusually for DOTW — features not a single drop of hard liquor. Just some of my personal favorite mildly alcoholic grape derivatives. One of them happens to be this week’s sponsor, an old favorite of mine previously featured here several times, most memorably (to me) in the Ugly Americano. I speak of Punt e Mes, which basically tastes like regular sweet vermouth imbued with the spirit of the best dark chocolate you ever had.

Also, as readers of an online men’s magazine, you guys have got to love the name of this week’s tasty but tempestuous beverage.

The Italian Mistress

1/2 ounce Punt e Mes
1/4 ounce simple syrup
3-4 dashes Angostura Bitters
Sparkling white wine
1 orange twist (garnish)

Combine the Punt e Mes, bitters and syrup in the bottom of champagne flute or, if you haven’t got one, a regular champagne glass — in which case you might want to reduce the proportions of syrup and vermouth as flutes tend to be larger. (If you don’t have any simple syrup on hand, by the way, a dissolved teaspoon or less of superfine sugar will also work.) Top off with the sparkling white wine…very carefully. Excess foam can be a factor.

Once your drink is fully poured, add your orange twist. Now, sip and salute the Italian mistresses of the world, not that we have anything but good thoughts for Italian wives and girlfriends.


This is a pretty simple and straightforward drink, which is one reason why I like it. However, the recipe that came to me simply said it was to be built in a champagne glass, so I originally made this in a smaller regular champagne glass which I also happen to use as a cocktail glass, since it’s essentially the same thing. (The Y-shaped martini glass is a relatively modern invention. Nick and Nora Charles drank their martinis and Manhattans from champagne glasses/coupes and so do I, most of the time.)

It was only when I received the picture above that I realized I was using a slightly wrong glass. I have to admit it was a better balanced drink in the flute, but the version in the champagne glass did put the Punt e Mes a bit more forward, and that’s realy never a bad thing.The one thing I will say is never stint on the bitters on this one. Though Punt e Mes has more than its share of bitter notes, the Angostura is definitely needed to sort of counter-intuitively smooth things over.

The one place where I may have gone wrong was on my choice of bubbly. I stumbled over a very cheap genuine Champagne which had a slightly unpleasant bitterness to it and which I therefore can’t quite recommend.  Still, the drink was sturdy enough to absorb that small blow. After all, any Italian mistress should be able to deal with a bit of French unpleasantness.

Now, we mambo.


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Drink of the Week: The Champagne Cocktail

the Champagne CocktailI’ve never made any bones about the fact that I’m a lazy bartender who, for reasons of taste and well as convenience, likes to keep my cocktails simple. Still, for this New Year’s weekend edition of DOTW I’m hitting a new high in simplicity and also using the official beverage of the coming holiday as our key ingredient. Make no mistake, however, as simple as it is, this week’s drink is an entirely legitimate and very classic cocktail. It’s also, in my opinion, delicious.

How classic? Well, a variation of it was featured in what appears to be the first cocktail guide published in 1862 and authored by bartender Jerry Thomas, who defined cocktails as containing spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. (This drink lacks only the additional water.)

I first became aware of this particular concoction, I imagine, the first time I saw Claude Rains order one for himself and one for a displeased Paul Henreid in “Casablanca.” I’ve been curious about it ever since, but I only bothered to look up what was in it this year. I only tried it, well, just a couple of nights ago but I immediately fell in love with it. Yes, some might call making a cocktail out of fine champagne gilding the lily, but who can afford fine champagne these days?

The Champagne Cocktail

Champagne or other Brut (dry) sparkling white wine
1 sugar cube
Aromatic bitters
Lemon twist (optional garnish)

Soak a sugar cube in your bitters — Angostura is traditional but I had equally good luck using Fee Brothers Old Fashioned aromatic, which has a slightly gentler flavor — and then place it at the bottom of a champagne flute, if you’ve got one, or a regular wine glass if you don’t. Pour in your champagne, chilled of course. Do not attempt to mix the sugar cube with the champagne as the gradual decay of your sugar cube will actually be adding extra fizz and visual interest to your beverage along with a very, very slight dash of sweetness. If you want, rim the glass with your lemon twist and toss it in. Toast which ever year, old or new, you prefer.

Classic though it be, I gather from David Wondrich that the Champagne Cocktail has long had detractors who argue that good champagne should be left alone. They probably have a point if you’re drinking a $150.00 bottle of Dom Perignon. I however, was drinking a really not so bad $7.99 sparkling white from Spain — which I dare not call Champagne for fear of offending the French — and I greatly enjoyed the extra flavor, subtle though it be, and the additional fizz.

On that last point, Rachel Maddow informs us that making Champagne cocktails is the perfect way to revive somewhat flat, left-over bubbly. If that doesn’t justify the existence of this fine beverage, I don’t know what would, and it certainly makes it a fine way to keep your News Year’s festivities going for as long as you can manage.