Wine cocktails … is there anything more disappointing?
You finally got a reservation at the hot new restaurant in town; the server hands you the cocktail list, and … wine margaritas?! I get it; if you don’t have a full liquor license, you have to work with what you have—but nobody has ever confused sauvignon blanc with tequila.
But what if, instead of trying to replicate boozy cocktails with wine (the cocktail equivalent of kissing your sister), the staff made cocktails born out of wine that embraced the subtleties of the product—cocktails that the home bartender could make just as easily, that were perfect for the fading heat of late summer?
Sangría, the most-familiar wine cocktail, has as many variations as there are people who make it. I was once gifted a Puerto Rican family recipe on a receipt from a guest that included a bottle of Manischewitz wine and a can of lemon-lime soda, so pretty much anything goes … but you didn’t think I was going to give you a bunch of sangría recipes like this was Better Homes and Gardens, did you? No, we’re gonna get nerdy here: Let me introduce you to the Colonial American version of the drink, the sangaree.
There is no record I could find of a direct “missing link” between the two drinks, but the similarity of name and the fact that they are both red-wine drinks made with sweeteners are hard to dismiss. The sangaree, however, is far easier to construct and therefore less likely to be ruined by too many cinnamon sticks; soggy fruit or what have you. Here’s a recipe for port wine sangaree:
4 ounces of Port wine
1 teaspoon of sugar
Shake with ice and dump into a glass goblet; top with grated nutmeg.
This recipe is an adaptation from the great Jerry Thomas, who also recommends using things like sherry and porter (which he calls the “Porteree”); if you do so, adjust the sugar level accordingly. I like the flavor of orange and Port together, so I think a few thinly-sliced oranges around the glass make for a nice presentation. Crushed ice would also be lovely here, although not necessary. Don’t use your fancy Port; any decent ruby will suffice. I think I might grate a little dark chocolate on mine today instead of the nutmeg, because I’m worth it.
What if you want a red-wine cocktail on the go? Don’t worry; the Basque have you covered. Try a “Kalimotxo,” an easy mix of dry Spanish red wine and cola. Keep the bottles on ice in a cooler; mix them (equal parts) in a red plastic cup with ice and a squeeze of lemon. Of course, you can also make these at home in a Collins glass, and let your fancy friends try to scoff at something they can’t even pronounce (cal-ee-MO-cho).
Trigger warning: The next drink absolutely requires a drinking straw. In fact, it was the drink that made the drinking straw “a thing”—public enemy No. 1! I am referring to the sherry cobbler, a drink so ancient, it shows up as early as 1838. Despite its nefarious deed, the drink itself is heavenly. I once referred to it on a cocktail list as a “snow cone for grown-ups” due to the use of crushed ice piled up and over the rim of the glass.
3 ounces of Amontillado sherry (others will work, but start with this medium-dry one)
1 teaspoon of sugar (or 3/4 of an ounce of simple syrup)
1 wheel each of lemon and orange
Muddle the sugar and the fruit wheels; add sherry and crushed ice. Shake; dump into a Collins glass. Garnish with anything fresh—mint, berries, sliced fruit, etc. Use a straw, whichever type your conscience will allow—preferably an actual wheat straw!
The recipe I made at a previous gig in Western Massachusetts, where the clientele of professors enjoyed a dose of history with their tipple, substituted locally made preserves and lemon juice. It’s called the Bistro 63 cobbler.
1 1/2 ounces of dry sherry
1/2 ounce of Pedro Ximenez sherry
1/2 ounce of lemon juice
A fat barspoon of local, seasonally appropriate preserves
Dissolve the jam with the lemon juice using the barspoon in a mixing tin. Add crushed ice; shake; dump into a tumbler; mound extra ice on top. Garnish with basil and berries.
Want to go even easier? Try the Andalusian answer to the Kalimotxo, the Rebujito. It’s kind of like a mojito with sherry, but less complicated. Smack a big sprig of mint in your hand with authority; put it in a Collins glass with ice; and add equal parts fino sherry and a lemon-lime soda of your choice. You can also, as Talia Baiocchi recommends in her wonderful Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret, use 3/4 of an ounce of simple to muddle your mint; and substitute the soda pop with a 1/2 ounce each of lemon juice, lime juice and soda water. You could also use a nice tonic water.
So what about something a little more “uptown”? I have two that will get you respect at any cocktail bar, the bamboo and the Adonis. The bamboo cocktail (which doesn’t appear to have been invented in Japan, but was attributed by William Boothby to a German-born American bartender by the name of Louis Eppinger, who ran a hotel bar in Japan) was a product of the 1880s at the latest and served all over the States by 1893, according to David Wondrich. No matter the origin, it’s a classy aperitif. This is Boothby’s 1908 recipe:
1 1/2 ounces of dry vermouth (the best you can find)
1 1/2 ounces of fino sherry
2 dashes of orange bitters
2 drops of Angostura bitters (careful, not dashes!)
Stir; strain into a cocktail glass. (A Nick and Nora is perfect.) Express a lemon peel over the top; garnish with a pimento-stuffed olive.
Try its heftier cousin, the Adonis.
2 ounces of fino sherry
1 ounce of sweet vermouth
2 dashes of orange bitters
Prepare as above, but with an orange peel and no olive.
Perhaps you have a sweet tooth? Here’s the sherry flip:
2 ounces of Oloroso sherry
1/2 ounce of simple syrup
1 whole egg
Shake all ingredients without ice; then add ice, and shake the heck out of it. Strain into a small wine glass, coupe or Nick and Nora; grate nutmeg on top.
The next time you are at an establishment without a liquor license and staring at the possibility of a suspect sangría, ask your bartender for one of these gems. They’re all pretty low on alcohol, too.
Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at CrypticCocktails@gmail.com.