Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Wine as a cocktail ingredient

There has a been a fair bit of media coverage of late about ingredients used to make wine. I haven't seen too much attention to wine itself as an ingredient. Mimosa: Sparkling wine and orange juice. Everyone knows that. Sangria: recipes vary, but generally wine, brandy, juice or soda and fruit. Two of my favorites also come from the Iberian peninsula, but are not so common as their punchy cousin. Kalimotxo is red wine and cola. Tinto de verano (this sounds great right now in this record Colorado heat...) is red wine and La Casera Limón (any lemon-lime soda works). In most cases, the cheapest wine possible is used. Yet, does that need to be the case? Should it be?

Last week, David White linked to a photo of a cocktail recipe with an image of Krug Champagne. Now, I don't think they really meant Krug should be the ingredient (would you really put at $200 bottle of Champagne in a cocktail?). Yet, expensive spirits are often used in mixed drinks. So why not use expensive wine? Even in the spirits world, there is controversy about mixing ice into whiskey. What size of ice cube? Ice versus stone. The debate transfers right in to the insular wine world.

A memorable story along these lines from a family friend involved his wife using a bottle of Vega Sicilia for making Sangria (by accident, of course). He did admit that it was the best sangria he ever had, but that fact did not give him peace of mind about the mistake. If wine is an ingredient in a cocktail, wouldn't a better wine make a better drink?

Last week was Colorado Wine Week and one of the main goals of the week's events was to reach out to new consumers. One way the organizers attempted to do this was to hold the second annual Colorado Wine Cocktail Celebration. Six mixologists from Denver's top bars gathered at Green Russell (Frank Bonanno's speakeasy-inspired bar) to mix drinks with local wine as ingredients. More than five dozen people packed into the underground establishment to sample the unique concoctions. I tried four of the drinks (for recipes of all the drinks, click here). They ranged from sweet and fruity to savory and complex. My favorite of the bunch was also the judges' favorite (four local media figures sat on a panel to crown a victor): Joe Hines', of Williams and Graham, "Port of Life" (featuring Creekside Cellars' LBV Port). The Port of Life showed a depth of complex flavors and contemplative texture that none of the cocktails had. The others were fine, but not exceptional examples of wine cocktails. I should note that Williams and Graham was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation Awards' Outstanding Bar Program.

Now, none of the Colorado wines were triple digit-priced classics that would send chills down any wine aficionados spine, but they weren't bottom shelf bottles either. Would the cocktails have been even better had higher quality wines were used? Maybe. Would Two Buck Chuck have made them undrinkable. Also a possibility. So what exactly is the purpose of making a wine cocktail? Is it to make a good drink or way to cover up a unpalatable wine? I've heard plenty of people say something along the lines of, "this isn't something that 7-Up couldn't fix (my wife admitted to me a few weeks ago that she did just this with a bottle of decent pinot gris). Just a few years ago, I'm sure lots of people thought that mixing beer and lemonade was a bit weird, but now most breweries sell some sort of Shandy or Clara.

So what say you to wine cocktails?

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