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.

What Wine Pairs with Filing Your Taxes?

I don’t know about all of you, but I was in no hurry to get my taxes done. It’s a combination of future knowledge of my lack of willpower (that return would probably end up being invested in a ridiculous wine shopping spree if I got it today) and the overwhelming prospect of filing not one, not two, not three, but FOUR W-2s this year, one of which was from a company that went defunct last summer. As such, I put it off. For a long time. I finally got all my W-2s together around the end of February and… just did not want to take the next daunting step.

Last night, I finally took the plunge and began the arduous task of allowing an electronic program to compile all my information for me. Since I was essentially punching in numbers over… and over… and over… and over, I had a hand free for a glass of wine. Which wine would go well with swallowing the bitter pill of last-minute taxation, but with a long reward in the making? The 2009 ranga.ranga Sauvignon Blanc, of course.

ranga.ranga, like all of the Barker’s Marque line-up, is a New Zealand wine from the Marlborough wine region. Marlborough is inherently suited to growing dry white wine, what with the cooler growing season and unusually dry, sunny weather. Though the weather is incredibly dry, the soil is almost entirely clay, allowing it to hold just enough water to keep the vines healthy without an overabundance. A hefty sea breeze perpetually blows through the valley, keeping temperatures down. The 2009 ranga.ranga is somewhat of an anomaly in that, while their Sauvignon Blancs are usually a blend of different vineyard grapes, this vintage is entirely comprised of fruit from the Muritai vineyard in the Awatere Valley, which means the acidic, aggressive wine qualities the above conditions would create are  increased even further.

From here on out, I’ll let the wine speak for itself.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine is almost entirely colorless. It has a very slight yellow tint, and its viscosity seems fairly low. I would expect this wine to have a lighter body and a thinner, but not weak, texture.

The nose of the wine is very interesting. It’s tropical and citrusy with a very distinct lime and passion fruit, and a slight, cool alcohol scent makes an appearance. There’s an unusual herbaceous quality to it and an effervescence that contributes to an overall smell of a lime-flavored tonic water. It smells wonderful.

The mouth feel of the wine is extremely vibrant. It’s hard to describe. Theres a puckering bite to it, and you can tell it’s got a ton of acidity, but it’s not overwhelming or uncomfortable. It’s somehow quite smooth.

The flavor of the wine is incredibly complex. It’s actually more medium-bodied, the alcohol holding up the aggressive flavors extremely well (13% alc). The attack is very citrusy, a lemon-lime, grapefruit, and tropical fruit mash-up that matches the high acidity very well. There’s a distinct array of green flavors, with grass clippings, green bell pepper, and a hint of green chili. The acidity comes forward even more so on the finish, which provides the flavors and sensations you would get from biting into a slice of fresh, ripe lemon. I would typically say the acidity is a little high in a wine as light as this, but I really think it works here. Every flavor in this wine benefits from the vibrancy the acid provides. You want dry? This wine gives you dry. The acidity comes in at a  3.27 pH, and the residual sugar barely tops 2 g/l.

For the Casual Drinker:

Don’t be fooled by the light color and the relaxed-looking label; this wine is an aggressive specimen. The sugar is low, the acidity is high, and the flavors are active and complex. It’s perfectly suitable to drinking on its own, but it would match really well with a spicy chicken or seafood meal. Believe me, it could hold its own against the spice. The acidity is dangerous for heartburn, so be prepared for that. This is a fantastic outdoorsy sort of wine. It just smells and tastes like a summer party after a hard day of gardening and yardwork. It’s the wine equivalent of a productive day.

The Conclusion:

Great wine, great price. $12 gets you a fantastic, aggressive, and complex wine. An anecdotal testament to this wine: after I did my tasting, I poured it out to share, and the immediate reaction was a loud, “Wow! I LOVE this wine.” 7/10

It’s available online from several retailers, but Raleigh-Durham-area readers can pick this wine up at Weaver Street Market. Buy local!

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