They each were big fans of wine cocktails. Wine cocktails may have been around for a long time, but they are certainly getting plenty of attention today. AdVINEtures decided it was time to take a closer look at this trending category.
A wine cocktail is really any beverage that is wine-based and blended with other liquids such as juices, spirits, waters or flavourings. The current hype around wine cocktails makes them seem new, but in fact they have been around for decades. One of the first, and still among the most popular is the Mimosa, the cocktail made of sparkling wine and orange juice. The Mimosa takes its name from the mimosa flower that has the same yellow colour of the drink. The drink was created by Frank Meier, a bartender at the Ritz in Paris in 1925.
The Mimosa is really just a derivation of the less well-known Buck’s Fizz.
The Buck’s Fizz was invented in 1921 at the Buck’s Club in London and is also a sparkling wine and orange juice combo, but made in equal portions, whereas the Mimosa is made at a more refreshing (and less hangover-inducing) ration of 1:3 or 1:4. Alfred Hitchcock, famous director of numerous horror films, can take much of the credit for popularizing the Mimosa as it was his favourite (and frequently in hand) cocktail, and though some credit him with its invention, Hitchcock’s love for did not come along until the 1940s.
Another well-known wine cocktail is the Kir, a 9:1 blend of the white wine Bourgone Aligoté (similar in our palates to Pinot Blanc) with Crème de Cassis, the blackcurrant liqueur.
The Kir was invented by the Catholic priest Felix Kir, a member of the French Resistance who bravely stayed in the city of Dijon in Burgundy as the Nazis invaded it, even as many of the other local officials fled. As the Nazis confiscated all of the wine and left the locals with none of their beautiful Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs to drink, Kir made his cocktail by blending the white wine made from the inferior Aligoté grape (which the Nazis felt was not worthy of confiscation) and blended it with Cassis to create a colour reminiscent of Red Burgundy. Kir was a true hero helping over 4,000 POWs to escape from nearby camps. The Kir Royale is a close cousin that substitutes sparkling wine for the Aligoté.
One of our favourite wine cocktails is the Americano. We first tried an Americano about a decade ago when we were in the country of its birth, Italy. The cocktail is made of equal parts of Campari (the fruit, herb and spice infused alcohol) with Sweet Vermouth, the sweet fortified wine, which are then poured over ice and topped with soda water and garnished with a slice of orange. The Americano was first served at Gaspare Campari’s bar on the outskirts of Milan and originally named the “Milano-Torino”, after the birthplaces of Campari (Milan) and Sweet Vermouth (Tourino).
The bitter-tasting Campari is the dominant flavour and can be too bitter for some palates. In the early 1900s this cocktail became popular among the American tourists giving it the name we call it by today.
The Americano was actually the first cocktail ordered by James Bond in Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale, though his martini, shaken, not stirred, developed much greater fame. We actually created our own version of the Americano which we call the Americano Regale, which substitutes sparkling wine for the soda water and includes a splash of Cointreau over the top and the orange slice is squeezed into the drink before being placed on the glass as a garnish. Delicious and refreshing but very potent, so watch out!
We think the popularity of wine cocktails today is quite understandable when you look at other trends in the drinks business. Cocktails in general have enjoyed increasing popularity in the last decade as younger drinkers seek new forms of refreshment and want to express their individuality and not drink the standard 2-ingredient Scotch-and-water, Gin-and-tonic, etc. that their parents drank. Bartenders responded with innovation and creativity creating multi-ingredient, complex beverages and thereby becoming mixologists rather than simply pourers.
This desire for variety spilled over onto beer drinkers also and the brewing industry, especially the ultra-fast growing craft segment, responded with a prolific selection of new beers. Traditional big breweries made just a handful of beers: a lager, an ale, a light and maybe one or two exotics such as an amber or a stout. Now it is common for small breweries to make 30 or more different brews over the course of a year to compliment changing thirsts as the seasons change as well as consumer’s desires for different levels of alcohol, different levels of bitterness and different flavours.
This desire for differentiation is not lost on today’s wine consumer, though it needs to be understood that there are literally hundreds of different species of wine grapes and countless different blends of them that are already in the market. Still, the wine cocktail is going through a surge in popularity. The simple wine spritzer is being replaced by wine-based concoctions that are almost as numerous as spirits-based cocktails and equally complex.
Not everyone in the wine world is pleased with this trend, however. There are those that say wine, especially fine wine has unique and subtle qualities all on its own and additives of any sort diminish and do not enhance what was already there. And put us in that camp when it comes to anything above the vin ordinaire category. But the wine cocktail is not supposed to be a way to enhance a glass of your favourite wine. It is a beverage unto itself, designed to create its own unique flavours, aromas, textures and refreshment.
A key to making a good wine cocktail is to use an inexpensive wine that is “good enough”. Good enough means that you would drink it on its own if offered to you, but not so good that you would order it again. If it is so much against your liking on its own, it is not likely to enhance the other ingredients so use something that is at least passable to you. Don’t use fine wine as the unique and often very subtle, complex flavours, aromas and textures of fine wine will be overwhelmed by the spirits or juices you add to them. There are those that would differ with us and say that certain drinks, such as the Mimosa, the French 75 or the Champagne Cocktail, are to be made with actual Champagne and not merely sparkling wine. Our view is that if you have the budget and like the result that much, fill your boots, but our palates cannot detect enough of a difference to pay the big step up in price from Cava or Prosecco.
Wine cocktails have a place in our world. They are different than a regular glass of wine and they stand on their own. We encourage you to give a try to some new wine cocktails, especially this summer. Many of the wine cocktails we have tried are served with ice and are meant to refresh the palate; a great idea on a hot summer afternoon or evening! If you are new to wine cocktails, a great place to start is with any of the wine cocktails mentioned in this article. They are among the best known and they achieved that popularity for a reason. Another great way to get introduced to wine cocktails is to go to any good cocktail bar and ask the bartender what wine cocktail they would currently recommend. And we would encourage you to experiment on your own. We have mixed some ingredients with wine that quite frankly, they bombed. But our Americano Regale has been an enduring success (try it!) and we hope you will find your own wine cocktail to enjoy this summer or all year long.