Monday 16 October 2017

Marc my words

I went to make myself a Champagne Cocktail the other day and found that I had run out of Cognac. However, I noticed that I had the tail-end of a bottle of marc, so I thought I would give that a try.

Marc is a French spirit made from the grape must left over from making wine (like Italian grappa). I first encountered it on holiday in France. In a booze shop my eye was caught by a bottle of marc from Chateau Mont-Redon—my wife’s degree dissertation had been on the artist Odilon Redon, so it seemed somehow preordained that I should sample this liquor. Marc is, or can be, extremely strongly flavoured, and I remember how powerful the aroma of the Mont Redon was, firing off elements of dried fruit, nuts and stewed vegetables. My wife said she could smell it from the other side of the hotel room.

The marc I had this time was from Briottet, who produce a handy range of high-quality, reasonably priced liqueurs ideal for cocktail making. This was their Très Vieux Marc de Bourgogne, from the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beane regions, aged for ten years in Burgundy barrels. Tasting the last thimbleful of it now, it does smell a lot like grappa, a sharp woody aroma with nuts and cherry stones, chocolate, raisins and dates. On the tongue these flavours are joined by a marmaladey orange note and something like pine nuts. Even after ten years in the barrel it’s pretty fierce, and you could believe it was stronger than its 43% ABV.

So does it work in a Champagne Cocktail? Yes, it certainly does, but you have to go easy. I started off using the same proportions I would use with Cognac (and I use less Cognac than many people) and the marc swamped it. I actually think that 5–10ml is about right, depending on the marc and the Champagne or sparkling wine you use. Adding the wine to the marc brought out extra elements of prunes and tobacco. The resulting cocktail seems very autumnal in its earthy flavours. I used the traditional sugar cube doused with Angostura bitters, but I found myself wondering whether a little pear purée might add a similarly autumnal form of sweetness.

Champagne Cocktail, Marc 2
Sugar cube
Angostura bitters
5–10ml marc
Champagne or sparkling wine
Apply several dashes of bitters to the sugar cube then drop it into a Champagne glass. Add the marc then top up with the sparkling wine.

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