Canned Sparkling Wine: Good for Cocktails, Not For Wine Snobs

Very recently, I was introduced to something that should make my wine sensibilities cringe: canned sparkling wine. From producer Francis Ford Coppola Winery, and named after Coppola’s daughter Sofia, comes the Sofia Mini sparkling wine, available in four 187 ml cans (adding up to one 750ml bottle total). As if the little pink cans weren’t enough, each one also comes with a little pink straw attached to the outside of the can with cellophane, creating an experience that seems more fit for a hyper-trendy bar or a kindergarten snack-time than any situation where sparkling wine would be called for. Of course, the wine is also available in traditional 750ml glass bottles, but if you’re going Sofia, you might as well go all in, right?

The real reason I am calling attention to this wine is because of the convenience that these cans serve in the manner of creating cocktails. If you have a recipe that calls for just one ounce of sparkling wine, and you’ve only got 2 people to serve, opening a full 750ml bottle is righteous overkill. Heck, even opening a half-bottle might be a little much for such a small amount required.  There are approximately 6 ounces of wine in each of these miniature cans, breaking down into very handy amounts for most sparkling wine cocktails.

But how does the wine itself taste? After all, having wine available in such handy portions doesn’t mean much if the wine is undrinkable.

To be honest, it’s not bad. It’s a little sweet and exceptionally fruity, but it’s got an okay bite to it. It’s a blanc de blancs, comprised of 82% Pinot Blanc, 10% Riesling, and 8% Muscat. It’s mostly fruit, but very lightly floral, with orchard fruits and flowers creating a fairly pleasant flavor and giving the it the nose of a countryside in spring.

Sofia is definitely geared towards simpler palates, with little complexity other than a layer of citrus that comes forward on the finish. For a cocktail such as a Bellini or mimosa, you can’t go wrong. It’s definitely not going to replace the Cava or Champagne in your life, so don’t expect miracles from it. For a $12 to $15 bottle of California sparkling, however, it’ll serve its purpose.

The lesson here? If you’re serving the wine to someone not of the most open mind, go ahead and pour the glass before you serve it to him/her. Unless their palate demands only the driest sparkling wines, chances are, though they won’t be blown away by it, they’ll be satisfied.

But having this knowledge is useless unless you’ve got a cocktail to try it in. Might I suggest the Champagne Julep? It’s a unique experience, and one heck of a delicious drink for sipping outside.

2 sprigs fresh mint

1 sugar cube

sparkling wine of your choice

splash of bourbon

Place the mint sprigs and sugar cube at the bottom of a high-ball glass. Add ice cubes. Pour the champagne slowly, stirring the entire time, leaving room for the bourbon. Add a splash of bourbon and stir one last time.

Going Against the Grape: Wine-Based Mixed Drinks

What we are about to embark upon will surely offend the sensibilities of the more fastidious wine critics in the world. We are going to taint the purity of fine wine with the basest of mixers and bourgeois liquors. We are going to desecrate months of hard work and careful planning by treating a glass of wine like a shot of tequila. Is everyone ready?

The Wines

2008 Traza RiojaThe two victims of our experimentations are the 2008 Traza Gra2, a 100% Graciano Rioja, and the 2009 Walnut Block Wines Sauvignon Blanc.

The Traza Gra2, crafted by David Sampredo of the collective Vinos Sin-Ley (translated as “wines without laws”), is a rich, perfumey red with a very deep, complex purplish-red color. Red and dark fruits accompanied by just a touch of spice accent a relatively full body. Good balance, bone-dry, and velvety tannins make it a good, pleasant Rioja experience for around $15.

The Walnut Block Wines Sauvignon Blanc is a bright, juicy, prototypical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Rich grapefruit, lime zest, and very prominent herbal undertones match very well with just a touch of sweetness and a ripe acidity. The color is striking, with an almost colorless silver luminosity, just a tinge of greenish-gold. It’s $11 and worth every penny.

Both wines were purchased from Hillsborough Wine Company in Hillsborough, NC.

Now that we’re acquainted with the victims, let’s look at the mixed drinks we will be attempting to create in the mad mixologist’s lair:

Kalimotxo

The first drink we tried was the Kalimotxo (pronounced Cah-lee-moh-cho), which is a fairly simple concoction with Basque origins. The recipe is as follows:

3 parts red wine

1 part Coca-Cola

Pour the red wine over a glass of ice, then add the Coca-Cola. Stir. Garnish with a lemon or lime wedge. Simple.

We tried this in the tasting with the Rioja, but there was just something slightly off about the flavor. After a second attempt at making this cocktail with a 2007 Mr. Black’s Concoction Shiraz, I came to the conclusion that a stronger, fuller, juicier wine makes for a more delicious cocktail, and at 15.9% with bountiful dark fruits, Mr. Black’s Concoction was exactly what I wanted. Avoid lighter reds and avoid adding too much cola to keep this drink in check. The lighter the red wine you use, the less cola you should add to compensate for the more delicate flavors. Too much fizz, and the drink will devolve into a bitter experience.

White Wine Mai-Tai

While not a true Mai-Tai (a Mai-Tai is neither pink in color nor this simple to create), this drink is nevertheless a delicious and surprisingly potent addition to your bartending repertoire. Here’s the recipe:

1 part clear rum

1 part white wine

splash of grenadine

Mix all ingredients together in a cocktail shaker. Pour over a glass full of ice. Garnish with a pineapple wedge or a maraschino cherry.

Because the rum flavor is so heavily featured in this drink, you need to splurge and go one step above Bacardi to get the full experience. For the white wine, go with something full, dry and juicy, something along the lines of a Sauvignon Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc, or Picpoul de Pinet would work well here. If you go off-dry, the sweetness combined with the grenadine will overwhelm the delicate wine flavors in the drink and turn it into a syrupy mess.

Take it easy with this one. Because you’re mixing alcohol with more alcohol, it’s going to be a lot more potent than most mixed drinks, up near 30% alcohol, and you won’t hardly be able to taste it. One or two of these will be good for an afternoon on the beach.

A Pleasant Surprise

While preparing for this experiment, I of course paid a visit to the local ABC store. There, I happened upon one of the biggest surprises of my alcohol-consuming life. The clerk saw me browsing the rum section and asked me if I needed any help. When I told him about my plans for the tasting, he handed me this bottle, saying that it was by far the best rum in the shop. There were 2 or 3 rums at a higher price point, but I took him at his word on it.

It’s lucky that I’m such a trusting person because this truly was one of the best rums I have tasted. This is a rum that’s built for sipping. I almost felt guilty blending it with the wine because of how pure and clean it tasted. Flavors of sugarcane, vanilla, banana, and molasses. It’s perfectly suited to tropical mixed drinks, especially if you’re looking to go heavy on the rum. I wouldn’t waste this rum on mixing with cola. Leave that to the Bacardis of the world.

I paid about $40 for this rum, and it’s freely available online at that price if you’d like to give it a try. For another look at it, hop on over to the Drinkhacker review. I don’t have much experience with liquor tasting, and a more trained palate can provide a better review than mine.

The Conclusion

What I learned from this experiment is that, despite the thirst for purity in the wine industry, there are other alternatives for wine use outside of cooking. Depending on the descriptors of a wine, it could make a pretty tasty cocktail. Now I turn to you, dear readers, for help. I’ve only scratched the surface of mixing wine. Have any of you given these a try? What other delicious concoctions have you heard of or produced with your favorite wine? My weekend is in your hands.

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