Classic Wine Cocktails

Pete Shipley Top Image.jpgWhen it comes to cocktails, there’s a seemingly endless combination of base spirits, liqueurs, mixers, fruit juices and bitters. But with the exception of the ubiquitous brunch tipple Mimosa, there seems to be little talk of wine in a mixed drink. Which is a shame, because wine has been an ingredient in many respected cocktails for over a century. Let’s take a look at a few.

Sparkling Wine

ThinkstockPhotos-596377840.jpgThe French 75 dates to World War I, and was invented at Harry’s New York Bar on Rue Daunou, between the Avenue de l’Opéra and the Rue de la Paix, in Paris, France. It was originally served with Cognac, though the substitution of gin for Cognac happened quite quickly. The drink was featured in the film Casablanca, which might not be surprising, given that Humphrey Bogart was a regular at Harry’s. The French 75 was named for the artillery piece of 75mm caliber, and supposedly had the effect of one of the shells going off near you. I like a more citrus-forward gin in mine, though Cognac is always welcome in my flute. New Orleans Grande Dame restaurants serve these with brunch, though I’ve found them to be quite refreshing at any time on a warm day, and a smashing accompaniment to a rich seafood dish.

1 ½ oz Gin
½ oz Simple Syrup
½ oz Fresh Lemon Juice
Champagne or sparkling wine

Shake the first three ingredients with ice, strain into a chilled flute. Top with Champagne. Garnish with a lemon twist.

The Seelbach is another sparkling wine cocktail, this time with a thoroughly American pedigree. First crafted in the Oakroom Bar of Louisville’s elegant Seelbach Hotel (now part of the Hilton chain), this concoction combines rye whiskey (I like Puckett’s Branch), with Cointreau and both Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters. Makes for an outstanding aperitif or just something to sip while watching your favorite steed cross the finish line at nearby Churchill Downs.

1 oz Bourbon or Rye Whiskey
½ oz Cointreau
5 dashes Angostura Bitters
5 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Champagne or sparkling wine

Stir the first four ingredients over ice and strain into chilled flute. Top with Champagne.

Fortified Wine

Port (red wine fortified with brandy) and sherry (white wines oxidized and fortified with grape spirit) have long been hailed as after-dinner drinks, particularly by the British upper classes. While they stand well enough on their own, they also lend interesting characteristics to mixed drinks.

ThinkstockPhotos-524000239.jpgThe Suburban is one of those drinks you’ve never heard of, right up until the minute that it becomes your new favorite. Its history, however, is neither obscure nor undistinguished. According to the Old Waldorf Astoria Bar Book, it was one of the drinks invented there to celebrate “the triumphs of James R. Keene and his racing cohorts and other famous stableowners on nearby courses,” one of which was the Suburban Handicap, first raced in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay Race Track in 1884. The drink is certainly a little different, as it uses two base spirits, in addition to the port. But it works. If there were ever a cocktail that evokes deep mahogany furniture, soft club chairs and leather-bound first editions, this may be it.

2 oz Rye Whiskey (I like Wiser’s Rye for this)
1 oz Dark Rum
1 oz Ruby Port (try 27 Grapes)
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1 dash Orange Bitters

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake briskly 20 seconds and strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice (one large cube or sphere if you have the mold). Garnish with a brandied cherry.

The Bamboo is also a century-old American cocktail, even if it came to our shores by way of Japan. The Bamboo was created in the 1890s at the Grand Hotel in Yokohama, Japan, by German bartender Louis Eppinger. The hotel was partly owned by a group of Americans who were stationed in Japan at the time, and, in hopes of bringing a bit of their homeland to the island, they enlisted Eppinger as the man for the job. His creation quickly found its way back to the United States. With the recent resurgence of sherry among the cocktail cognoscenti, this double-wine drink is back on cocktail menus. It’s a delightful afternoon quaffer, as it is low in alcohol.

1 ½ oz Fino Sherry (try Savory & James)
1 ½ oz Dry Vermouth
½ oz Simple Syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
2 dashes Orange Bitters

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass, add ice and stir 30 seconds. Strain into a coupe or cocktail glass.

Pete Shipley, Wine & Spirits Specialist – Gainesville

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