Food & Wine Pros | Should you use fine wine in cocktails?

Food & Wine Pros

Should you use fine wine in cocktails?

The answer most people would give to the question ‘should you use wine to make cocktails?’ is ‘Why ever not?” Yet there is a general feeling, of which I must confess I’m occasionally guilty, that it’s a waste of a wine that may be perfectly well balanced in itself.

The issue has recently been raised on Twitter by the provocative former wine writer Robert Joseph, citing the numerous cocktails on the Barefoot Facebook page as a good example of a brand playing to its strengths.

What Barefoot wines have in common is that they’re light, sweet and inexpensive - qualities well suited to a cocktail. But Gavin Quinney, who also joined the debate, makes a delicious-sounding one with his Bauduc Bordeaux rosé.

True, cocktails in the past may well have been designed to correct a less than wonderful wine - a slightly sharp, acidic weedy white is definitely going to taste better in a white wine cup while the classic champagne cocktail includes a sugar lump soaked in brandy, perfect for disguising a lean, mean bottle of fizz. Then there’s sangria, mulled wine . . . once you start thinking about it you realise basing drinks on wine is and always has been commonplace. It’s just the C word that seems to raise the hackles.

Should you use top quality wines for cocktails though? After all mixologists generally claim their cocktails are improved by using premium spirits. But many spirits, particularly vodka, are too dry and austere for many tastes on their own. Why would you add fruit to an already fruity, wine?

Common sense comes into play here. On the face of it it doesn’t make sense to use an incredibly expensive wine though if you could make a delicious dessert cocktail based on Yquem it would probably fly off the list. Would that be a ‘wrong’ use of Yquem? It would be snobbish, surely, to say that it was. No-one, I suspect, would criticise a chef for adding foie gras to popcorn. They would (assuming they didn't object to the use of foie gras in the first place) simply think it was playful.

Anyway Joseph reckons wine cocktails are the next big thing and he could be right. If you Google 'wine cocktails' or any specific wine + cocktail you’ll find plenty of inspiration, particularly on US sites.

Significantly the giant importer Enotria is running a Wine Cocktails Competition at its annual trade tasting at the end of February following a successful event in Edinburgh last September which you can read about here. Entries need to be in by next Friday (January 25th). You can find details of the wines that can be used (interesting in itself) here.

Here’s the cocktail that went down best at the Edinburgh tasting (far left in the picture above):

Shiraz Cobbler

75ml Shiraz (Mount Langi Ghiran, Billi Billi Shiraz)
25ml Fresh Lime Juice
20ml Sugar Syrup
4 Mint Leaves
6 Basil Leaves
4 Black Cherries

Method: Muddle last 5 ingredients into glass, add crushed ice, add Shiraz and swizzle. Serve in a burgundy glass

Garnish: Sprig of mint and basil together, a black cherry and straw

So what do you think about using wine in cocktails? Something that will help to sell wine or a novelty for the existing cocktail lover? And do you have a favourite?

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Comments: 4 (Add)

Fiona Beckett on January 19 2013 at 10:48

That's my feeling too. But younger 'fine wines' such as those from the New World. Or champagne? Or top sweet wines? You probably don't need wines of that quality but they might help to sell the cocktail.

Frankie Cook on January 15 2013 at 19:27

Like many wine lovers, I would generally only use wine in a cocktail if it was very cheap or needed some other flavours to disguise the taste.

As to using fine wine? Perhaps in something that needed extra fruit (e.g. a Gran Reserva Rioja that has dried out) - but maybe then that would no longer deserve the fine wine tag.

How about mature Bordeaux or Burgundy? I would suggest their flavours are too subtle and there would be no point adding other strong flavoured ingredients.

Fiona Beckett on January 15 2013 at 14:46

Thanks for commenting, Robert. Good point about wine bringing down the cost of cocktails - and perhaps fruit juices etc, reducing the cost of wine, both useful in these hard times.

I'm not sure I'm with you though on 'improving' the flavours of everyday wines. If you buy NZ Sauvignon Blanc for example I imagine you do it because you like it's upfront fruity flavours. Do you want to make those less obvious? Ditto with Merlot. Isn't what you like about Chilean Merlot is its softness and absence of harsh tannins. But true you might be able to create a drink based on either you like just as much. Interesting . . .

Robert Joseph on January 15 2013 at 13:17

Thanks Fiona for a level-headed look at what - as you say - I think will be a subject of much discussion.

Let's bear in mind that the average price of wine in the UK has just hit £5, a price which almost certainly equates to a beverage with a cost to its producer of under €0.50. Using one of these averagely priced - or cheaper - wines is actually a lot less "wasteful" than using some of the spirits favoured by mixologists.

Then let's think about some of the flavours we're talking about. Can't you imagine tempering - or improving the taste of a vibrant NZ Sauvignon Blanc? Or adding some spice to a one-dimensional Chilean Merlot? Or adding some fruit and fizz to a Pinot Grigio? Or some depth to a White Zin?

That's the lesson Barefoot is - I think - teaching the rest of the wine world. Take wine - not Premier Cru Chablis or Pomerol but the kind of wine most people drink on most days - off its pedestal and allow people to have the same kind of fun with it that they have with Vodka or rum.

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