Wine cocktails hit the sweet spot for summer entertaining

Posted6/14/2017 6:00 AM

Whether it's a Bellini or bowle, sangria or a Mimosa, wine combined with its nearest kin -- fruit -- has produced delicious cocktails long before the term cocktail was coined (sometime in the 1800s.)

Some were born of necessity. The Kir (see our "Good Wine" column covering Rose) was designed to sop up excess Aligote, softening this Burgundian grape's searing acidity with a shot of the region's other essential product, crème de cassis (black currant liqueur.)

Some have taken on a life of their own. The Bellini, created in 1948 to attract luminaries including Ernest Hemingway to Harry's Bar in Venice, has branched out from the classic recipe of prosecco and white peach nectar or puree, to substitute mango, berries, ginger/lime and a rainbow of flavors -- sometimes with an extra oomph of liqueur. Always use true Italian prosecco, such as Nino Franco "Rustico or Zardetto, both about $15. (Check with your gourmet grocer for fruit puree.)

The Mimosa was originally based on Champagne, but that was at the Paris Hotel Ritz, where Champagne flows like water. Today's bubbly brunch staple enlists prosecco or cava -- Spain's great value bubbly. (Again, a dash of orange liqueur is optional and potent.) Great-value cava includes Casteller and Segura Viudas, about $10.

The punch bowl is a party's star attraction, delicious and easy for festivity of all sizes.

For a white wine punch, look to recipes for German bowle.

Erdbeerbowle combines sugared strawberries, a decent Mosel (such as Clean Slate Riesling, about $10), a decent bubbly (see above) and mint or lemon balm for garnish. Use firm, wild strawberries if possible. Peach-lovers may opt for a peach-filled Pfirsichbowle; melon lovers, a Melonenbowle, with a hollowed watermelon standing in for a punchbowl.

Sangria is Spain's world-famous red wine punch. Start with good value Spanish red (Torres, Sangre de Toro is widely available, about $10). Add Spanish brandy, which tends to have pleasing caramel flavors. (Romate is a good value, about $15.99.) Next, orange liqueur. Add sliced lemons and oranges (including long, thinly-sliced zests) and peaches. Stir and sugar to taste.

Our local Glunz Family Winery produces the very decent pre-made De la Costa Sangria, widely available, about $12. Eschew all others.

The most important ingredient of any fruit-filled punch is time. Macerate firm fruits with liquids overnight in the refrigerator. Allow at least two hours of maceration for soft, ripe strawberries and peaches.

At the last minute, pour a portion into a chilled punch bowl (keep plenty chilling in the 'fridge), splash with club soda to taste, and add ice -- either a large block or cubes of frozen fruit juice (see below.)

Here are more tips for successful and delicious wine cocktails:

• Chill all ingredients overnight. During the hottest weather, chill glassware and containers.

• If ice is needed, freeze fruit juice into cubes. For an extra touch, freeze a mint leaf, a blackberry or other ingredient within the cube.

• Consider colors. Orange juice added to Rose wine, for instance, creates an unappetizing brown.

• Use wine somewhere between the best and the worst. Ask your merchant to recommend a well-made, unoaked wine in the $8 to $12 range. Don't ignore the quality/value of boxed and bagged wine, especially for large quantities.

• Lean toward quality with your mixer. Blood oranges, for instance, add exotic flavor and color to your Mimosa. Avoid the dull flavor of mass-produced crème de cassis by using top-quality producers including Clear Creek (from Oregon), Leopold Brothers (Colorado) or France's Mathilde or Gabriel Boudier.

You don't have to be a mixologist to craft your own wine cocktails. I enjoy lemon zest added to many light whites and chillable reds. Feeling spicy? Add a slice of ginger (raw or sushi-ginger) to the glass. Although it sounds to me like a rough morning waiting to happen, the hot trend during Spain's hot summer is the Kalimotxo (pronounced cal-ee-MO-cho), with equal parts red wine and cola, over ice; you can sub in your favorite soda.

Finally, throughout the summer, have a bottle of cava or prosecco chilled at the ready for your wine cocktails. (This is my advice, by the way, straight through the winter holidays.)

• Mary Ross is an Advanced Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers), a Certified Wine Educator (Society of Wine Educators) and recipient of the Wine Spectator's "Grand Award of Excellence." Her classes on wine and food are offered through The Chopping Block, Chicago. Write to her at food@daily

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