Tuesday, March 11, 2014

OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d'espions (2006)

Before we go into today's feature, allow me to apologize to you all for the delay in posting. The last two weeks at work have been real hectic. It gets hard to write when all you do is work and sleep. But, I'm back and here is today's installment of SiscoVanilla at the Movies: OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies aka OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d'espions (2006).

Now I'm not sure if you've noticed from my prior SiscoVanilla at the Movies posts, I love spy flicks. They are some of my most favorite types of films. They are good with booze and cocktail references since it seems that spies are always indulging in a tipple or a libation. So when I came across this movie a few years back, I couldn't help myself. What's there not to like.

OSS 117 is French spy spoof series based on the original OSS 117 movies based on the books Jean Bruce, his wife Josette Bruce and their children Francois and Martine Bruce. As per the Double O Section blogpage post OSS 117 Week dated May 11, 2010:
OSS 117 is the code name for Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, an American secret agent of French descent (from Louisiana) created by French author Jean Bruce.  Bruce wrote an astounding 91 novels about his spy hero between 1949 (pre-dating Ian Fleming's first James Bond novel) and his untimely death in 1963.  After that, his widow, Josette Bruce, penned an aditional 143 novels about Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, and after her their children, Francois Bruce and Martine Bruce, wrote 24 more titles in what had become the family business.  The last novel was published in 1992.
The film OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies is made to resemble those early James Bond films in both look and feel. OSS 117 is directed by Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) and stars the 2012 Academy Award winner for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Jean Dujardin.

The movie is based between 1954 and 1959. Why do I say that? The President of France during the movie is René Jules Gustave Coty who was President of France from 1954-1959. He is mentioned a number of times (with reverence) by the movie's protagonist Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, alias secret agent OSS 117 (Dujardin). Never let it be said that I don't find a way to include some World History into my boozy movie posts. But I digress.

De La Bath sent to Egypt in order to find out what happened to OSS agent 230 Jack Jefferson, who happens to be good friends with de La Bath. What transpires is the discovering of a Muslim insurrection in Egypt, the double cross of de La Bath by various people, a return of an old enemy and a happy ending all due to the bumbling of de La Bath. I'm keeping the story vague so you can watch the movie. This is SiscoVanilla's cliff notes to the movies. But onward we go.

In the scene at the party in the British Embassy, we get out first glimpse as a cocktail reference. de La Bath is with Jefferson's secretary Larmina El Akmar Betouche (Bérénice Bejo). He asks her if she would like something to drink. He offers her a Suze

Then a Lillet, Dubonnet, Cinzano, Brandy?

This got me thinking about these offerings. I wanted to elaborate the first four which fall under the banner of an aperitif. For those of you who don't know what an aperitif is, here is how it is defined on the Do You Dubonnet website:
WHAT IS AN APERITIF? Originating from the Latin word aperio, aperitifs were originally conceived to "open" or prepare the appetite for a meal.
Now that we got the definition out of the way, here goes my research on the four aperitifs mentioned in the movie.

Suze is a French bitters what is usually consumed as an aperitif that was created Fernand Moureaux in 1889 which is notable in French history as being the year that the Exposition Universelle of 1889 (1889 World's Fair) was held in Paris, France and the famed Eiffel Tower was unveiled to the world. Moureaux used gentian root as the base of his aperitif rather than using wine as other brands of aperitif used. According to the translation from the Suze website:
Comprising 50% of fresh roots of wild gentian, aromatic base Suze is a subtle mixture of infusion and spirit of gentian, obtained by maceration and distillation. The spirit reveals spicy and fruity notes of gentian, enhanced with extracts of herbs, where Suze keeps secret since its inception. Its aromatic richness results from a subtle balance between the fresh gentian and many aromatic plant extracts. Low alcohol (15% vol), Suze is ideal to accompany all your drinks.
In terms of flavor:
The contrast of flavors Suze is surprising free or progressive in the mouth, bitter surprise at first, then said, and appreciates over tastings.

Dress (Look)
Bright, amber gold, with light reflections yellow-green, which suggests a world of flavors.

Notes of fresh gentian, accompanied by warm notes of vanilla and orange marmalade.

Palace (Flavor)
The warm notes and gourmet candied orange and spices soften the bitterness of fresh gentian.
As with many other brands, the Suze brand has expanded with varied blends of their original product such as the Suze Citrus and Suze Red Fruits.

As with Suze, Lillet is a French aperitif. Unlike Suze, Lillet is made primarily with wine from the Bourdeaux region of France.

According to the Lillet website:
Jean Lillet came from Saint-Morillon in Gironde and moved to Podensac, a small town near Sauternes in the Graves region, in 1680. His descendants Raymond and Paul Lillet, merchants of fine wines, liqueurs and spirits, founded Lillet in 1872. They created Bordeaux’s first and only aperitif, known as Kina Lillet until the 1970s when it became simply Lillet, a blend of Bordeaux wines and handcrafted fruit liqueurs produced in Podensac...a small village south of Bordeaux, is the birthplace of the Lillet aperitif, a subtle blend of rigorously selected wines (85%) and of fruit liqueurs (15%) handcrafted on site...Sweet oranges from southern Spain or Tunisia, bitter oranges from Haiti, quinine from Peru.
When it comes to making the most mainstream cocktail (arguably) containing Kina Lillet (which is from Ian Fleming's novel Casino Royale named The Vesper) is that the cocktail can't be made as per the original recipe since the Lillet Blanc is not made the same way. According to the article What's the Deal with Cocchi Aperitivo Americano? by Paul Clarke from the Drinks section of the Serious Eats website:
A reformulation in 1986 removed the product's quinine bite (along with the quinine-related "Kina" from the name), in the process altering the flavor characteristics Lillet delivered when mixed in a cocktail.
Based on that information, the newer formula has the following tasting notes:
Colour: Golden

Nose: Flowery

Mouth: Aromas of candied oranges, honey, pine resin and exotic fruits. Full and fleshy on the palate.

Finish: Long aromas.
Based on this information and that the movie was set in 1955, the Lillet de La Bath offers Larmina would be the original recipe that is also found in Fleming's Vesper. I do have to link all the spy stuff together. Right?

Dubonnet is also a French aperitif wine that was introduced to the world in 1846. According to the Do You Dubonnet website:
From its origins with the French Foreign Legion to the legions of modern mixologists still using it today, Dubonnet Rouge Aperitif Wine has been a staple on the cocktail landscape since its introduction in 1846. Created by Parisian chemist / wine merchant Joseph Dubonnet as a means to make quinine more palatable for the soldiers battling malaria in North Africa, Dubonnet's mix of fortified wine, a proprietary blend of herbs, spices and peels, and the medicinal quinine is a recipe that has earned it legendary status in the world of sophisticated drinks...Its 19 percent alcohol content ensures a refreshing drink in the summertime, while its port-like flavors promise a hint of holiday in the winter months...aperitif wines such as Dubonnet make up a special class called "aromatized" wines - fortified wines that have been flavored with herbs, roots, flowers, barks and other botanicals
There is Dubonnet Blanc but the Rouge is better known. An interesting side note on Dubonnet comes from Jason Wilson in his article Spirits: Dubonnet, in Sickness and in Health from the Washington Post dated January 9, 2009:
Dubonnet reportedly is a preferred tipple of Queen Elizabeth II and was favored by the late Queen Mother. "I think that I will take two small bottles of Dubonnet and gin with me this morning, in case it is needed," the Queen Mother once wrote to her butler in preparation for an outdoor lunch. Last summer, that handwritten note was sold at auction for 16,000 pounds.
Cinzano is an Italian brand that has a range of Vermouth that were created in the Piedmont Region of Italy starting in 1757. Cinzano is currently owned by the Campari group. Here is how the Palm Bay International webpage describes the start of Cinzano:
In 1757 CINZANO’s two visionary brothers, Giovanni Giacomo and Carolo Stefano Cinzano, Master Distillers, opened a small shop in Turin where a dream soon became a reality.

As their traditional Vermouth production rapidly increased, so did their reputation for exceptional quality.

Cinzano is the finest tasting imported vermouth for many leading wine and spirits connoisseurs. Its proprietary herb-infused recipe has remained unchanged since 1757. 
Three varieties of Vermouth that were sold under the Cinzano name are as follows (as per the Palm Bay: International catalog):
- Cinzano Bianco: Fragrant and full-bodied yet delicate vermouth with aromas of fresh herbs, lemon and spice.
- Cinzano Rosso: Dark red in color with intense flavors of citrus and berries with a pleasantly bitter finish.
- Cinzano Extra Dry: An off-dry Vermouth characterized by its pale yellow hue. Aromatic herbs create a fresh and fragrant flavor.
The Bianco and Rosso are both 15% (30 proof) while the Extra Dry is 18% abv (36 proof). There have also been Rosé, Orancio and Limetto varieties added to the Cinzano banner in recent years.

That's all on the aperitifs mentioned in the embassy party scene. But there is one little mystery in the movie. Later on in the movie, de La bath is at the cafe in the Hotel Metropolitan and the waiter bring him a cocktail

Neither the server, nor de La Bath mention the cocktail by name

At quick look, it would seem that de La Bath is enjoying himself a Manhattan. Any other suggestions on what he might be drinking based on the era of the late 1950's?

Until Then Happy Drinking,
Sisco Vanilla

For Further Reading:
- Click Here to access the ExpoMuseum website for information of the Exposition Universelle of 1889