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Wine cocktails … is there anything more disappointing?

You finally got a reservation at the hot new restaurant in town; the server hands you the cocktail list, and … wine margaritas?! I get it; if you don’t have a full liquor license, you have to work with what you have—but nobody has ever confused sauvignon blanc with tequila.

But what if, instead of trying to replicate boozy cocktails with wine (the cocktail equivalent of kissing your sister), the staff made cocktails born out of wine that embraced the subtleties of the product—cocktails that the home bartender could make just as easily, that were perfect for the fading heat of late summer?

Sangría, the most-familiar wine cocktail, has as many variations as there are people who make it. I was once gifted a Puerto Rican family recipe on a receipt from a guest that included a bottle of Manischewitz wine and a can of lemon-lime soda, so pretty much anything goes … but you didn’t think I was going to give you a bunch of sangría recipes like this was Better Homes and Gardens, did you? No, we’re gonna get nerdy here: Let me introduce you to the Colonial American version of the drink, the sangaree.

There is no record I could find of a direct “missing link” between the two drinks, but the similarity of name and the fact that they are both red-wine drinks made with sweeteners are hard to dismiss. The sangaree, however, is far easier to construct and therefore less likely to be ruined by too many cinnamon sticks; soggy fruit or what have you. Here’s a recipe for port wine sangaree:

4 ounces of Port wine

1 teaspoon of sugar

Shake with ice and dump into a glass goblet; top with grated nutmeg.

This recipe is an adaptation from the great Jerry Thomas, who also recommends using things like sherry and porter (which he calls the “Porteree”); if you do so, adjust the sugar level accordingly. I like the flavor of orange and Port together, so I think a few thinly-sliced oranges around the glass make for a nice presentation. Crushed ice would also be lovely here, although not necessary. Don’t use your fancy Port; any decent ruby will suffice. I think I might grate a little dark chocolate on mine today instead of the nutmeg, because I’m worth it.

What if you want a red-wine cocktail on the go? Don’t worry; the Basque have you covered. Try a “Kalimotxo,” an easy mix of dry Spanish red wine and cola. Keep the bottles on ice in a cooler; mix them (equal parts) in a red plastic cup with ice and a squeeze of lemon. Of course, you can also make these at home in a Collins glass, and let your fancy friends try to scoff at something they can’t even pronounce (cal-ee-MO-cho).

Trigger warning: The next drink absolutely requires a drinking straw. In fact, it was the drink that made the drinking straw “a thing”—public enemy No. 1! I am referring to the sherry cobbler, a drink so ancient, it shows up as early as 1838. Despite its nefarious deed, the drink itself is heavenly. I once referred to it on a cocktail list as a “snow cone for grown-ups” due to the use of crushed ice piled up and over the rim of the glass.

3 ounces of Amontillado sherry (others will work, but start with this medium-dry one)

1 teaspoon of sugar (or 3/4 of an ounce of simple syrup)

1 wheel each of lemon and orange

Muddle the sugar and the fruit wheels; add sherry and crushed ice. Shake; dump into a Collins glass. Garnish with anything fresh—mint, berries, sliced fruit, etc. Use a straw, whichever type your conscience will allow—preferably an actual wheat straw!

The recipe I made at a previous gig in Western Massachusetts, where the clientele of professors enjoyed a dose of history with their tipple, substituted locally made preserves and lemon juice. It’s called the Bistro 63 cobbler.

1 1/2 ounces of dry sherry

1/2 ounce of Pedro Ximenez sherry

1/2 ounce of lemon juice

A fat barspoon of local, seasonally appropriate preserves

Dissolve the jam with the lemon juice using the barspoon in a mixing tin. Add crushed ice; shake; dump into a tumbler; mound extra ice on top. Garnish with basil and berries.

Want to go even easier? Try the Andalusian answer to the Kalimotxo, the Rebujito. It’s kind of like a mojito with sherry, but less complicated. Smack a big sprig of mint in your hand with authority; put it in a Collins glass with ice; and add equal parts fino sherry and a lemon-lime soda of your choice. You can also, as Talia Baiocchi recommends in her wonderful Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret, use 3/4 of an ounce of simple to muddle your mint; and substitute the soda pop with a 1/2 ounce each of lemon juice, lime juice and soda water. You could also use a nice tonic water.

So what about something a little more “uptown”? I have two that will get you respect at any cocktail bar, the bamboo and the Adonis. The bamboo cocktail (which doesn’t appear to have been invented in Japan, but was attributed by William Boothby to a German-born American bartender by the name of Louis Eppinger, who ran a hotel bar in Japan) was a product of the 1880s at the latest and served all over the States by 1893, according to David Wondrich. No matter the origin, it’s a classy aperitif. This is Boothby’s 1908 recipe:

1 1/2 ounces of dry vermouth (the best you can find)

1 1/2 ounces of fino sherry

2 dashes of orange bitters

2 drops of Angostura bitters (careful, not dashes!)

Stir; strain into a cocktail glass. (A Nick and Nora is perfect.) Express a lemon peel over the top; garnish with a pimento-stuffed olive.

Try its heftier cousin, the Adonis.

2 ounces of fino sherry

1 ounce of sweet vermouth

2 dashes of orange bitters

Prepare as above, but with an orange peel and no olive.

Perhaps you have a sweet tooth? Here’s the sherry flip:

2 ounces of Oloroso sherry

1/2 ounce of simple syrup

1 whole egg

Shake all ingredients without ice; then add ice, and shake the heck out of it. Strain into a small wine glass, coupe or Nick and Nora; grate nutmeg on top.

The next time you are at an establishment without a liquor license and staring at the possibility of a suspect sangría, ask your bartender for one of these gems. They’re all pretty low on alcohol, too.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails

It’s June, the time of year when I transport self and friends to Spain by stirring up a pot of cold, red, fruity deliciousness.

Yeah, it’s sangria time.

Sangria seems like a kids’ drink. By “kids,” I mean adults of legal drinking age between 21 and 103. Sangria can potentially be a sugary, soda-pop beverage with some fruit that appeals to people who don’t much like red wine, who drink Arbor Mist or Yellow Tail’s Sweet Red Roo.

It has no place in my life. Or does it?

A couple of years ago, Dave and I spent most of June in Spain. In Granada, I presented an academic paper that called for collective thinking by critical theorists. (Yeah, I know. Zzzzz.) More importantly, my husband and I drank some Spanish wine—dark-red Spanish wines, characterized by region or Denominación de Origen. In the United States, a couple of better-known Spanish wines are Rioja and Ruedo. We drank those in abundance. Our favorites, though, were Toro wines from grapes grown in Castile and León, northwestern Spain, along the River Duero.

In many places in Spain, a glass of wine is served with tapas. At best, the tapas might be a shellfish concoction, a Caprese salad or a slice of frittata. At least, it’s a dish of almonds or olives. If you drink enough, you never need to order dinner.

Then came a scorcher of a day in Seville, a large city that carefully observes siesta. We’d taken the train from Ronda, a pueblo blanco in the southern central part of Spain. There’d been a quick breakfast at our hotel. When we arrived in Seville, we were hungry, but the hotel pool looked cool and inviting. The city was about 41 degrees. Celsius. (106-ish Fahrenheit.) While the rest of the city was doing its afternoon dining, we were swimming.

Then we hit the road to see the sites. We walked to majestic Plaza de España with its bright tiles and brilliant fountains. I took photos—getting hungrier with each snap. At a plein air restaurant near the Plaza, waiters were cleaning up from the afternoon rush. Cerrado, they said. Closed. They could not serve us food. We walked on.

In nearby tourist central, a few souvenir shops were open. McDonald’s was serving its usual fare. Not tempting. We walked and walked, past closed cafés and restaurants. Sunburned. Stomach rumbling. A harsh wad of acid bunching up near my esophagus.

Then … glory be! The pearly gates of a small local dive bar. The door wasn’t actually open. But we saw a man walk in. The joint boasted no windows and didn’t appear to be a tourist hot spot. Pero porque no? Why not?

The bartender didn’t speak English. In my broken Spanish, I explained that we’d arrived on a train and had much hunger. Tenemos mucho hambre. Too bad, he explained; the bar didn’t have a kitchen. That said, the angel of mercy made me a plate of papas fritas. In other words, he opened a bag of potato chips and put a couple of handfuls on a plate. This was the tapas that would accompany a sangria that I fuzzily remember as the best I’d ever tasted.

Yes, I’ve read the words of travel writers who disdain sangria as cheap wine mixed with cheap booze and unwanted overripe fruit. Smarmy Spanish bartenders mock the poseurs to whom they serve sangria, charging them way too much for the privilege of drinking something that sounds Spanish. Stupid tourists.

I can see that. But amigo, that cheap slop hits the spot on a hot afternoon.

Paired with potato chips, it felt like food. I drank two and consumed two plates of potato chips. I can’t remember what Dave drank. I’m really not quite sure I can remember what we did next, where we went, or how we finally obtained “real” food.

That is to say, the sangria was potent. I had downed two tumblers on an almost-empty stomach.

I was in the mood to gamble, and the bar had two video gaming machines. I pulled out a 20-euro bill and slid it into the machine. The few people in the bar were all watching me. And at first, it was just like any game at any bar in Nevada; I think it was fish-themed. With mermaids. I was doing OK, maintaining, not winning, not losing. And then something cool happened: The machine was abuzz with lights and sound—all, in Spanish and thus incomprehensible.

The bartender was saying something to me in Spanish, and I was smiling and nodding. But I didn’t comprehend. Soon, he was flying over the bar to stop me from pushing the wrong buttons and, you know, losing it all. He did not make it in time.

Dave has a photo of me not winning a jackpot in Spain. My face is bright red with sunburn and sangria. No one will ever see this photo.

Back in the Estados Unidos, I attempted to re-create this sangria, with varied results. I’ve even done some seasonal variations. For St. Pat’s Day, I made green sangria, using apple-flavored vodka instead of Triple Sec, and adding melon, Granny Smith apples and kiwi. I’ve tried using rum, vodka, bourbon and brandy. All of these work, but I like brandy. Bourbon overwhelms the wine.

To make a party-sized vat of sangria, dump the following ingredients into a very large container:

Three bottles of red wine

A cup or so of brandy

A cup of citrus flavored liqueur (like triple sec)

Juice of two limes

Juice of two oranges

3/4 cup sugar (more or less to taste)

3-5 citrus fruits, sliced thin (oranges, lemons, grapefruit)

An apple, minus core, also sliced thin

Other seasonal fruits (berries, melon), thin slices!

Three biggish bottles of sparkling mineral water (and if you’re making this for Arbor Mist lovers, it’s OK to use Squirt)

It takes a couple of hours for the flavors to mingle. I like to mix sangria in the evening before a party the next day, minus the sparkling water, and let the fruit and wine make sweet love all night long. I add sparkling water right before I serve—two parts fruity wine to one part sparkling water, or it will taste too watered down.

Pour in a wine glass, chilled if possible, garnished with fruit wedges and mint leaves.

Add papas fritas, and you might as well be in Seville.

Published in Wine