Every year – around this time – a few of my college friends fly into New York for a weekend reunion. Everyone chooses to stay with me, but not because I’m a nice guy, or because my place is nice either – we aren’t particularly. When it comes down to it, my friends choose to stay with me because of my various alcohols. While it’s great for me to see and host all of them, it puts a little bit of pressure on me to keep them plied with cocktails. It’s times like this where I’m reminded of how awesome wine in mixed drinks can be.
Who needs a collection of expensive liqueurs when you have wine, which is a perfectly good cocktail on its own? Wine can bring fruit, acidity, depth, structure and the perception of sweetness at a fraction of the cost of other cocktail modifiers.
The most obvious wine for cocktails is Champagne or other sparkling such as Mont-Marçal Cava. As someone who has bartended, the use of sparkling wine is almost like cheating when creating a cocktail, in that if you add enough good brut sparkling wine to anything – no matter how horrible the initial recipe may be – it will eventually make something you can sip easily. Especially if you achieve the flavors you want, but the mix is a little sweet, brut sparkling will give a cocktail instant balance, while its effervescence will make all the desirable flavors pop.
My favorite simple sparkling wine cocktail is the French 75. Pour a jigger of gin in a shaker, squeeze in a half lemon, sweeten to taste (about a half teaspoon for me), shake, pour, top up with sparkling and add a twist of lemon for one of the most refreshing cocktails on the planet.
The other most obvious wine for use in cocktails is sherry. Sherry has had a recent surge in popularity in New York cocktail bars. And no wonder: it’s fortified so it will maintain the integrity of the cocktail’s structure and it’s, at once, nutty, fruity, earthy and exhilarating. Dushan Zaric of Employees Only came up with a great Sherry cocktail after reading Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan. The book inspired Zaric to use Tequila, made from Agave, the closest conceivable thing to the cactus-like peyote buttons, which were used liberally throughout the book. He decided to counter the bold flavors of the Reposado Tequila with a Pedro Ximénez Sherry – a sweet a nutty wine. He dubbed the cocktail The Negrita.
1 ½ oz. Tesoro Reposado Tequila
1 oz. Gonzalez Byass Pedro Ximénez Nectar
½ oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth
3 dashes Peychaud bitters
Stirred and served up with a flamed orange peel
Then there’s my favorite wine for use in cocktails: Vinho Verde. This Portuguese white is light-bodied, limey and lends a quality not often found in cocktails: minerality. I stumbled upon this while I was mixing cocktails and ran out of limes. It was raining – so I didn’t want to run to the store – and I saw a bottle of Vinho Verde and I figured, ‘Eh…Close enough.’ Low and behold, it worked exceptionally well. I usually use Gazela, which can be found for about $4, and has a little bit of CO2 added before bottling; when shaken, the effervescence from the CO2 gives the cocktail a really cool mousse texture. My favorite concoction has been a Cognac cocktail that I make with a tamarind-chamomile tea (two cups of water steeped with four chamomile tea packets and six tamarind pods).
1 ½ oz. VSOP Cognac
1 oz Gazela Vinho Verde
3/4 oz. Averna Amaro
½ oz. Tamarind-Chamomile tea
Shaken and served up in a cocktail glass with a Sombra Mezcal rinse and a twist of grapefruit.
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