9 wine cocktails with a summer twist
Summer is a time not only to drink wine but to indulge in some refreshing wine cocktails. Wine writer Peter Pharos introduces us to a few of his favourites.
Peter writes: Wine cocktails tend to get a bad rap among wine aficionados. This is not entirely undeserved as they were often invented to make bad wine palatable. Yet, in the cocktail milieu this is hardly an ignoble tradition and many a rediscovered classic has its roots in an effort to mask the taste of bootleg whisky and bathtub gin. Wine cocktails can be delicious – and in high temperatures they offer a lighter alternative to spirit-based ones.
When making wine-based cocktails, it’s worth keeping two things in mind. Firstly, they can be very forgiving of the type of wine you use: if a recipe says Chablis, think any dry and mineral white wine. Secondly, adopt the same principle as when picking a wine for cooking: don’t use any that you wouldn’t be happy sipping by itself. And of course, don’t err too much on the other side either – your bottle of 30 y o sherry was meant to be savoured by itself.
In the entire wine and spirts world, is there a drink as maligned the wine spritzer? Reminiscent of dubious wine festivals in German villages for us Europeans, and of ‘70s suburban faux-sophistication for Americans, it is the one cocktail everyone feels comfortable knocking. Well folks, there are wine spritzers and proper wine spritzers. To make the latter, the wine should be much more than the mixer (2:1 to 3:1 ratio, to taste), and a dash of bitters and a citrus fruit peel should be added (the particular type depends on the wine, but it’s a tolerant drink so feel free to experiment). I make mine with a 3:1 ratio of leftover Alsatian Pinot Gris and San Pellegrino, a dash of orange bitters, and a slice of orange peel. Not blokey enough for you? Try it with orange wine, soda water, orange bitters, and grapefruit peel.
Hi Life Spritz
Americans, it seems to me, adopt trends with more aplomb and seriousness than anyone else, getting a kick out of discovering, fetishizing, then toppling something. Spritzer’s Italian cousin, the Venetian Spritz, appeared to reach the end of this trajectory this year, as the New York Times finally put it on the spin cycle, having previously gone through wash and rinse. It did wonders for Aperol’s sales figures in the process, as the Paduan brand cleverly managed to position itself as the “correct” Spritz bitter, despite Venetians probably being partial to the local Select, and Campari being at least equally popular elsewhere. Meanwhile, in Italy itself eyelids remain un-batted - during my most recent visit Spritz seemed to be as popular as ever. If, however, you fear that serving one risks rendering you démodé, may I recommend the Hi Life Spritz: in a Collins glass, mix equal parts of London dry gin, dry white wine and elderflower liqueur over ice (I use a big glass, so I put 50 ml of each, but adjust accordingly – you need to have around one-fifth of the glass left empty). Stir, then top up with good quality soda or sparkling water. I make mine with Sipsmith and Chardonnay (but not an overly sweet one), then garnish with lemon or lime, depending on the wine.
The Spritz furore seems to have left untouched that holiest of cocktail holies, the Negroni, despite the two drinks sharing the sin of industrial bitter. I am partial to a Negroni in springtime myself, but in high temperature I might go for the lighter, “erroneous” version, which substitutes sparkling wine for gin. Understandably, most bars opt for extra dry prosecco that doesn’t really work for me, and neither does the common 1:1:1 ratio, which I find makes it too sweet. I have found the Negroni Sbagliato, however, an excellent vehicle for some of the less exciting Franciacortas, particularly dosaggio zero ones. As with the Spritz, I use a big Collins glass, and I mix 50 ml each of Campari and Italian vermouth (I like Punt e Mes) over ice, then top up with the Franciacorta. A fine drink.
Negroni Molto Sbagliato
A couple of years back, Kate Hawkings wrote convincingly on these pages about the challenges of making good cocktails at home without the training and elaborate preparations of a professional mixologist. Kate’s method relies on the use of a small number of ingredients and simple techniques. In the same spirit, let me humbly put forward one of my own creations, that I did not so much invent as stumbled upon, drawing on what was available at home. The principle is similar to a Kir Royale, but I arrived to it via my Negroni Sbagliato, a Negroni Molto Sbagliato if you will. In a chilled flute glass, pour a shot of Cynar, then top up with rosé Franciacorta (both bottles also well-chilled) and add an orange twist to finish. Simple. Foolproof. Tasty.
The archetypal wine cocktail, of course, does not come from Italy, but from the west of the Mediterranean. Sangria seems to be the one drink that everyone enjoys, possibly due to the fact that we were all young once, and most of us have some pleasant experiences associated with this joyful mix of wine, brandy, and fruit. If, however, your only memories of it are from Erasmus parties in Berlin and tourist traps in La Rambla, I suggest you give it a shot with some wine for grown-ups. Last month, I opened a bottle of Jimenez-Landi’s Bajondillo, a beautiful Garnacha-led blend recommended to me by Fintan Kerr, a Barcelona-based Spanish wine specialist. At £7, it is an outstanding value for money, but it was put to some very stiff competition, so it was left unfinished. The leftovers made an exceptional mini-Sangria a couple of days later as the UK was experiencing its first heat wave. In an Old Fashioned glass I diluted a teaspoon of sugar in a shot of brandy (actually, I used Calvados because that’s what I had at home – Sangria is very forgiving). I filled the glass with ice and topped up with the wine, then garnished with a slice of orange. Keep in mind that this makes something on the stronger side. If you’re making it for a crowd, you might be aiming for something lighter: dilute two tablespoons of sugar in a mix 50 ml of Cointreau and a dash of orange juice until you get the consistency of thin syrup. Mix in a pitcher with a bottle of red wine (maybe keep it Spanish, Garnacha or a modern Rioja), 125 ml of orange juice, 125 ml of soda water, and fruit slices to taste. Leave in the fridge for 3-4 hours, then serve over ice.
Spain is also the home to a cocktail that is the polar opposite of Sangria. Simply shake a standard sour mix (juice from half a lemon, 2-3 teaspoons of sugar syrup, and a fresh egg white – in a perfect world, from your own hens) with two or three shots of darker sherry. Amontillado, Palo Cortado, and Oloroso all work very well. A remarkably elegant cocktail, lighter than spirit-based sours, and ideal for the cooler summer nights.
White Port and Tonic
While Spaniards match the Brits for devotion to the ole G’n’T, their Iberian neighbours have their own twist. White port and tonic is lighter, sweeter, and more tolerant than gin and tonic. Most recipes call for a 1:2 port-to-tonic ratio and garnishes seem to have proliferated recently, following in the steps of its more popular spirit-based sibling. I make mine stronger: I pour equal parts of white port and tonic in an Old Fashioned glass, over the biggest ice cubes I can find (at home I use a spherical mould). I add a dash of orange bitters, stir, and garnish with an orange twist.
Greece’s rather terrifying version of a spritzer is cheap retsina with Coca-Cola, particularly popular in the ‘80s and still to be spotted today. If you think that all retsina is terrifying, mixer or not, you might want to check out a piece I wrote earlier this year to see that the state-of-retsina-art is actually very different from its very ‘70s image. One exciting development is a pet-nat retsina called Afros by Thessaloniki-based innovator Kechris. While very summery and highly enjoyable on its own, Kechris has also created a cocktail for it, “Afros Breeze”, which I’m reproducing below:
60 ml Afros retsina
20 ml freshly squeezed lime
15 ml sugar syrup
2 dashes vanilla bitter
freshly ground black pepper
Rub the rim of an Old Fashioned glass with a lime slice and dip in salt to create a salt ring around the rim. Add the retsina, the lime, the sugar syrup, and the vanilla bitters and stir lightly to preserve the effervescence of the wine. Finish with a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper.
I confess I omitted the vanilla bitters as I didn’t have any, but it was lovely nonetheless. I also tried my own variation (lemon juice instead of lime, orange twist instead of salt and pepper) with the best Pignoletto I’ve ever had, and it worked like a charm. This would be Gradizzolo’s Bersòt, a frizzante (pet-nat) little wonder from Emilia-Romagna. I’m not sure how it scores for authenticity in the current natural wine religious wars, but it tastes great.
Unless you travel to Athens regularly, it might surprise you to hear that its cocktail scene is second only to London in skill, breadth, and sheer creative fervour. If you think I’m biased, check out the most recent World’s 50 Best Bars, where the Greek capital is the only other European city with a Top 10 entry, and has already scored a second before Paris gets its first (Barcelona, Amsterdam, and Berlin make an appearance later while, unfairly to Jerry Thomas, Rome is absent altogether). So, I’ll wrap up with a recipe from a proper pro, Dionisis Polatos, one of Athens’s top mixologists. You’re welcome to try this at home, but I’ll have it at his home ground, Ipitou Bar, one of my favourite cocktail bars in the world.
45 ml Agiorgitiko (or other full-bodied fruit-forward red wine)
10 ml overproof Jamaican rum (at Ipitou they use Rum-Bar)
25 ml lemon juice
15 ml orange juice
15 ml Crème de Mûre
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain on a tea mug over ice. Garnish with orange zest.
Peter Pharos likes drinking, talking and writing about the wines of Greece and Italy. He also writes a bimonthly column for timatkin.com.
Image ©© chandlervid85 at fotolia.com
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