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Vinous libations: wine cocktails get hip as mixologists explore and experiment.

Wine-based concoctions are old hat in Spain, where Sangria was invented. A more recent phenomenon popular with Spanish youth is the Calimocho, also known as Kalimotxo in Basque country. Simply a combination of Coca-Cola and red wine with lots of ice, the drink may sound dreadful to wine aficionados and cocktail traditionalists, but according to Alex Urena, chef and owner of upscale Spanish restaurant Pamplona in New York City, the Calimocho is surprisingly popular. "Most people who dine here are skeptical when it comes to the drink, but once they've had one they always order another," he says.

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He starts with the traditional Spanish recipe, "but then we add a little splash of white rum and serve it with an orange zest. It actually tastes good," he says. "With the rum, it's almost like a Cuban cocktail in the vein of the Cuba Libre."

While vodka and various spirits might be garnering headlines today, still and sparkling wines are emerging as the latest hot ingredients in the world of cocktails. Mixologists and restaurant owners are creating tasty wine-based libations, and guests are responding.

Sangria, the wine punch so often associated with Spanish and Latin American restaurants, has taken on a new twist. Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar, with locations in Atlantic City and Philadelphia, offers Sangria from the cask. "We add our own spiced rum to Sangria, which offers these insane flavors of cinnamon and cloves. Then we add poached fruit and allow it to sit for a day and half before transferring the batch into cask, where it sits for another day," offers Bob Gallo, director of operations. "The process allows it to develop, and it picks up appealing oak flavors from the cask. It makes for an amazing Sangria, and our sales have increased as a result."

Daniel Orr, chef and owner of FARMbloomington in Bloomington, Ind., a restaurant that focuses on seasonal ingredients and Indiana comfort food, gives his Sangria a seasonal spin. "White wine Sangria is wonderful in the summer time, whereas the red wine version makes a nice transition to autumn and winter. This spring he began offering a rose Sangria with sttawberries and mint.

An exotic adaptation of the ubiquitous Spanish punch is menued at Japanese restaurant Kumo in Los Angeles. Mixologist and manager James Bobby created two different recipes under the title Seven Samurai Sangria. "The Seven Samurai Sangrias are our best sellers," he notes. "The name refers to the seven components that make up the cocktail. Aka [Japanese for red] features cabernet, grenache and zinfandel, plum wine, Yamazaki Suntory Single Malt Whisky, Patron Silver tequila and prickly pear nectar. The drink also is steeped with seasonal and exotic fruits like Asian pears, mangoes or dragon fruit--whatever we can get through our purveyors."

Kumo's white wine Sangria, named Shiro (Japanese for white), is made with fume blanc, pinot gris, chardonnay. V2 Vodka, Patron Silver and litchi puree. "We reached a lot of success with Aka but, being a Japanese restaurant, we obviously have fish and sushi on the menu and we were getting requests for a white Sangria," Bobby says. He adds, "And if you're wondering why we'd have Sangria at a Japanese restaurant, it's because we're in L.A., where there is such a large Spanish influence. I wanted to create something that people would be comfortable with, yet also show a different side to it."

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MORE THAN JUST SANGRIA

Cava Sangria sells like hotcakes at Jaleo, a Spanish tapas eatery with locations in Washington D.C., Bethesda, Md. and Crystal City, Va. "Cava Sangria has been around since the 1970s in Spain, and it's becoming popular again. We started serving it as a summer drink in 2001, but it was so popular we've kept it on our menu year 'round," says Carlos Olarte, manager at the Bethesda location. Jaleo's choice of cava for the effervescent libation is Segura Viudas Brut Reserva mixed with the Spanish liqueur Cuarenta Y Tres, brandy, white grape juice and a mix of seasonal fruits and mint leaves. A liter pitcher at the Bethesda location sells for $27.

It was St-Germain, an elderflower liqueur, that influenced Angelene Parr, the bar manager at Indian restaurant Junnoon in Palo Alto, Calif., to create a wine-based libation. "I came up with the Jasmine Blossom after I tried St-Germain for the first time," she says. "I was trying to figure out what to do with it, and one of my bartenders suggested using gewurztraminer because it has similar floral character. Plus, whenever you talk about wine with Indian food, gewurztraminer often comes up. The end result is St-Germain, gewurztraminer and a splash of soda."

Bar owners and mixologists are throwing a little vino into classic cocktail recipes, as well. The Mojito is given a dash of pinot grigio at The Blue Grotto in Providence, R.I. "I wanted to work with the Mojito and I decided that pinot grigio would work best with it," says owner Michael Danahy. "The wine gives a little complexity and fruir to the original drink. We call it the Pinot Mojito."

Cuba Libre Restaurant offers two Latin classics with a twist: Pisco Sideways and a Champagne Mojito. "We created the Pisco Sideways as a celebration of the movie," says Gallo. "The drink has the usual pisco and sour mix, then we added a little grape juice and Cointreau. We found that when we topped all that with pinot noir, it gave the drink this earthy, complex depth of flavor--but at the same time it's also terribly refreshing. It's been a big hit, especially with our female guests."

"For our weekend brunch service," Gallo continues, "the chef and I came up with the idea of topping our Mojitos with Champagne instead of seltzer or Sprite. It works really well with the citrus and sweetness of the drink."

CLASSIC TWISTS

Sparkling wine cocktails such as the Bellini have been around for years. Brick restaurant in San Francisco serves a range of bubbly libations that offer a nod to the classics. "I like using Champagne because it's so versatile," enthuses bar manager Ryan Fitzgerald. One of his creations is the Piccolo Spaglio, which means "cute mistake" in Italian.

"This is a twist on the Negroni Spaglio, a drink that came about when a bartender intended to make a Negroni but grabbed a bottle of Champagne instead of gin by accident," explains Fitzgerald. "I made a Negroni Spaglio for the owners of the restaurant, but they thought it would be too bold for their clientele. So, I switched from Campari to Aperol, which is more subtle in flavor. I love that it's one of those drinks that every type of person can drink because it's so elegant and works with food."

Wine brands are dabbling in mixology, too. R. H. Phillips hired H. Joseph Ehrmann, proprietor of Elixir, one of the oldest saloons in San Francisco and founder of Cocktail Ambassadors, a cocktail consulting company, to create a range of seasonal wine cocktails using its Night Harvest wines.

"For the cocktail named Sunset on Dunnigan, I used sauvi-gnon blanc, which is light and citrus-driven. I liked the herbal qualities of this wine, and instantly made a connection with gin. But I didn't want a bold London dry gin, so I used a lighter juniper gin with more up-front citrus character so the wine wouldn't get lost," Ehrmann explains. "Then I introduced St-Germain elderflower liqueur to give the cocktail a little sweetness, and it's finished with a grapefruit zest garnish."

Ahead of the curve, Ecco Domani hired mixologist Alex Ott in 2006 to make what the winery refer to as "winetails." Ott's creations don't call for any spirits or liqueurs--just vino, fresh juices and ingredients from the kitchen cabinet. Using Ecco Domani's Chianti, merlot and pinot grigio as his base ingredient, Ott created a range of unique libations based on each season. His most popular wine cocktail is the summery Dolce Domani.

"When I tell people the recipe," says Ott, "they're amazed at how easy it is. It basically is like a Caipirinha but with wine. The lime juice interacts with the wine and creates a beautiful pink froth."

The fashion set was exposed to winetails at designer Erin Fetherston's party and the Ecco Domani Fashion Week Celebration in New York City earlier this year. "The alcohol content in the winetails is very light, so people were going crazy [for them]," says Ott.

If fashionistas are loving wine-based cocktails, the next "it" cocktail might just involve a little vino.

Pameladevi Govinda is a New York-based wine, spirits, travel and lifestyle writer. Her contributions have appeared in a number of industry and consumer magazines.
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Author:Govinda, Pameladevi
Publication:Cheers
Date:Jun 1, 2008
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