Summertime is always fun. The abundance of fruits, vegetables and herbs inspire us to shake up and expand our cooking, and also our drinking. Summer wine cocktails may seem sometimes to be a bit of work, but are so worth the effort. There are, obviously, numerous recipes in books and online, but summer means not having to do any homework (right?), so instead try releasing your personal creativity and dream up your own concoctions.
The one worthwhile rule of thumb to follow is that you should probably not use expensive, subtle and complex or rare wines for cocktails. Pouring a relatively inexpensive wine into a blender with ice, mixed berries and the like will probably end very well.
Using a $60 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, by contrast, would probably not maximize whatever sensory pleasures that particular bottle had to offer. It’s your money and choice, obviously, so do as you please – we’re just trying to be helpful. Some classic wine cocktails are the “Kir” made from creme de cassis and white wine; the simple “Spritzer,” a combination of white wine and soda or mineral water; and the “Bellini” created with Prosecco and pureed white peaches.
These are easy and can be delicious, but considering the season’s bounty and the many other wines that could be utilized, we urge you to be more creative. Consider, for example, the “Apple and Pink Julep” made with mint leaves, Port wine and apple juice. Or the “Cucumber Mint Fizz” with Sauvignon Blanc, Spanish sparkling Cava, cucumber, lime juice, sugar and mint. Or maybe the “Black Rose” which uses blackberries, dry rosé wine, vodka and limes.
Merely suggestions. Start with a tasty and fun yet pliable base wine and tinker until something tastes right. A light and fun kosher white wine to consider as your cocktail base is the Bartenura Moscato, aka the “blue bottle” ($14). Semi-sweet and slightly fizzy with tropical fruit and citrus flavors, it is produced from Moscato Blanco grapes grown in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy, surrounding the town of Asti.
It can be sipped over ice but also works really well in many of the cocktail recipes we have tried. Spirits-wise, as long as we are shaking things up, as it were, with summer cocktails, we thought we’d continue on this theme. When the weather gets hot, and in our neck of the woods also quite humid, what is needed is something simple and delicious to cool the blood, slake the thirst and refresh the soul.
Most summer cocktails have a basic formula calling for some mix of fruit juices or purees with various types of booze and ice. The overall effect is to serve up something light, cool and refreshing. Unfortunately, many of today’s blender-made drinks tend increasingly to taste like an alcoholic slushy. These are cold and will get you drunk, but they aren’t exactly “fine living.” The novelist Ernest Hemingway consumed oceans of daiquiris made with lemons, sugar, lots of rum and shaved ice.
But these were definitely not the slushy, fruity concoctions of today’s bar scene. Hemingway always cautioned the barmen to go easy on the sugar: “It should have a sour finish – like life.” Just so. Rather than spiraling down the too-cold, too-sweet road this summer, consider something more refined and elegant, something easier to prepare.
The art of mixing a cocktail is not an exact science, so recipes and measurements should be thought of as guides, rather than rules chiseled in stone – at all times, mix according to taste. Here are a few cool, classic cocktails that will quench your summer thirst and revitalize you.
They are very easy to make, yet still convey a rewarding air of sophistication. First, try a Gin & Tonic (G & T). Novelist and infamous drinker Kingsley Amis, in his book On Drink, quipped: “It would be rather shabby to take money for explaining that, for instance, a gin and tonic consists of gin and tonic, plus ice and a slice of lemon” – yet even something so simple is so often done badly. When well made, a G & T is refreshing, clean, sparkling, bitter, sweet, and helps take the edge off. When badly made, a G & T is a depressing mess — at too many bars a G & T means cheap gin, bad ice, mediocre and too sweet tonic from the soda-gun, and a sad looking garnish.
The key to unlocking the secret of the G & T is to balance the bitterness of the tonic against the juniper and other flavors in the gin, while making sure that the juniper stays subtly on top. Use fresh fruit, super cold, hard ice and a quality, though not too expensive, “London Dry” style gin like Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray, and decently bitter tonic water like Schweppes.
In a well-chilled highball glass, pour 2 ounces of gin, 4 ounces of tonic water (if the tonic to hand runs sweet, cut it 1:1 with soda water), 2-3 large cubes of ice, stir briefly, and add a fresh lime or lemon wedge for garnish. Traditionally, lime is the fruit of choice, but lemon is now more common in the U.K. – either does the job (if you use both, it is technically called an “Evans” cocktail).
Or consider the Gin Fizz, a delicious and refreshing classic. Fill a cocktail shaker 3/4 full of hard, cold ice, add 2 ounces of gin, 3/4 of an ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice and 1 teaspoon sugar (or 1 ounce simple syrup), then shake it like you mean it and strain into a chilled highball glass with ice. Top up with club soda and drink. Repeat as necessary. Finally, we would be remiss if we did not mention the Rickey, Washington, D.C.’s native cocktail.
A few years ago a plaque was put up to declare the J.W. Marriott hotel in Washington, D.C. as the birthplace of the “Rickey.” Invented in 1883 by bartender George Williamson at a place called Shoemaker’s, located at 1331 E St., N.W., where the J.W. Marriott hotel now stands, the Rickey was named for Democratic lobbyist Col. Joe Rickey. Essentially a lime version of the Gin Fizz, the Rickey is a beguiling and refreshing yet super simple cocktail: 2 ounces of booze, half a lime squeezed (roughly half an ounce) and dropped into the glass, topped up with soda water.
Think of the Rickey as the American answer to the British G & T. Originally made with bourbon, by the 1890s it was mostly made with gin, and so it remains today. Give it a sip and you’ll understand why.