When I discuss favorite films with friends, I have to admit that my longtime favorite is a blatantly obvious one. I love “Casablanca.”
Traditional Champagne Cocktail
When I was young, I loved it for the romantic world it portrayed. When I got older, I loved it for having a nuanced view of how people go along with the wrong thing, and why they might change. It also gave me an unexpected love: the Champagne cocktail.
One of the funny things about old movies is how alcohol-soaked they can be, and “Casablanca” definitely belongs in the pantheon of movies that celebrate alcohol. That should come as no surprise. After all, its main setting is the proverbial “gin joint,” and our hero Rick, when asked for his nationality, replies, “I’m a drunkard.”
Champagne has a special place in the film — on its own in scenes where Rick and Ilsa Lund open what looks like Mumm’s Cordon Rouge as the Germans advance on Paris, and when Inspector Renault suggests “Veuve Clicquot ’26, a good French wine…”
The classic Champagne cocktail is also featured prominently, and its presence in “Casablanca” made it one of the first “grown-up” cocktails I ordered when I went to a bar that qualified as something more than run-of-the-mill.
The classic Champagne cocktail is made with a sugar cube soaked in Angostura bitters, Cognac, Brut Champagne and a twist of lemon (see recipe in sidebar).
In my humble opinion, using actual Cognac and Champagne may make for a swank cocktail, but it also makes for a ridiculously expensive one. I save them for sipping independent of each other.
I have several go-to sparkling wines I reach for as the base for my cocktails.
If I want the end result to be a little “fancier,” I will reach for a good domestic Brut sparkling wine. It might lack the complexity of true Champagne, but it often delivers a reasonably close experience for a much more reasonable price.
For a more budget-oriented experience, I usually reach for a good Cava. While Cava will lack the yeasty richness of Champagne, those flavors are largely lost in a cocktail. Again, reach for Brut or, for a slightly sweeter cocktail, look for an Extra Dry Cava.
There are certain sparkling wine cocktails that have a real affinity for a specific sparkling wine. The famous Bellini is at its best when made from an Italian sparkling wine called Prosecco.
The gentle bubbles and tropical flavors of the wine blend beautifully with peach puree (see recipe).
“Casablanca” gave me another favorite Champagne cocktail many years later, when I encountered my first French 75, a drink that combines gin and sparkling wine. Yvonne, Rick’s jilted lover, orders this drink with a Nazi suitor. This post-World War I cocktail got its name from a French artillery piece that was said to have a similar kick!
There are other exciting drinks that can be made from sparkling wine besides the trio of classics suggested above. Try some variations on these base recipes to make your own unique cocktail.