Category Archives: wine

Wine Margarita

wine margarita

The Margarita is one of the most iconic cocktails in the world, a derivative of the Sidecar, and it regularly fights the Martini for most-googled cocktail. One of my first blog posts at Simple Cocktails was a Watermelon Wine Margarita, which tasted a lot like Jolly Ranchers, and not at all like booze. Some beer-and-wine-only restaurants will make “cocktails” out of wine to replicate the boozier versions, and I’ve personally found that some wine-based mixed drinks like that can be great for parties because you can make them in a pitcher and they’re ready-to-drink without being overwhelmingly alcoholic.

With BBQ season right around the corner, here’s my recipe for Wine Margaritas, in both individual servings and for pitchers:

Wine Margarita (by Greg Mays)

  • in an ice-filled, salt-rimmed Collins glass, add:
  • 1 oz orange curacao
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 4-5 ounces white wine of choice (decide based on your desired dry-ness)
  • garnish with a lime wedge
  • stir well (I left mine in the photo above un-stirred for a cool “sunrise” effect, but stir before drinking)

Pitcher of Wine Margaritas (by Greg Mays)

  • in an ice-filled pitcher, add:
  • 1 bottle white wine of choice
  • 6 1/2 oz of orange curacao
  • 6 1/2 oz lime juice
  • fill pitcher with lime wheels and stir well
  • prep ice-filled, salt-rimmed glasses for serving

Wine-Finished Whiskies

slaughterhouse whiskey

Recently I discovered a little piece of the whiskey industry and decided to explore it a little bit: wine barrel finished whiskies. The two whiskies I tasted are distilled and aged as whiskey, then re-barreled by Napa Valley wineries in their used wine barrels and aged for a period of time in Napa.

Slaughter House is a product of Splinter Group in Napa, home of the Orin Swift family of wines. For Slaughter House, they barrel a 9-year-old Tennessee whiskey (distilled from 95% corn and 5% wheat) in their Papillon barrels (a red wine blend).

Slaughter House is bold and spicy , with a nose of apricot, berries and caramel followed by a flavor of cinnamon-and-sugar and marzipan. From the flavor of the whiskey, I have trouble detecting the wine’s contribution, though Slaughter House is certainly a solid whiskey when stood alone. With a price in the mid-$30 range, it’s a good buy for a solid spice-heavy 9-year-old whiskey.

amador whiskey

Amador Whiskey Co’s Double Barrel Bourbon is a blend of 3-10 year old Kentucky bourbons, then is re-barreled in Napa for 6 months.

Also a mid-$30-priced whiskey, Amador Double Barrel is barreled by the spirits division of Trinchero Family Estates. Chardonnay barrels were used for aging and the wine barrel contribution is much more obvious. It’s nose is floral and sweet corn, with a finish that is crisp and clean, clearly echoing the Chardonnay. Amador has almost no traces of spiciness, and is much milder start-to-finish than Slaughter House. I suspect that this flavor profile could translate to a broader appeal to more drinkers, too (ladies, I’m looking at you).

Whiskey is no stranger to barrel polygamy. Whether it’s something like these wine-barrel finishes, or larger brands like Angel’s Envy (finished in Port barrels) or Balvenie Double Wood, the depth of flavor that gets added through barrel exploration like this makes for some very delicious drinking.

La Quintinye Vermouth Royal

la quintanye vermouth royale

La Quintinye Vermouth Royal is one of several vermouths you may find at your local specialty liquor store. In this particular case, the line is French-produced, by mixing “fresh grape juice and Cognac from a single estate.”

Vermouth, as you know, is an essential ingredient to many classic cocktails, and I have a large summary post about vermouth here at Simple Cocktails.

In the case of La Quintinye (pronounced queen-tin-EE), is available in 3 varieties and I got them in 375 ml bottles ($15 retail). I always try to stick with the smaller bottles since vermouth’s lifespan is relatively short. Here are the flavor profiles of the three:

La Quintinye Extra Dry. Citrousy and sharp, this is your Martini vermouth. It has a little anise flavor, very herbal, and complex. It whets your tastebuds well, just as a good aperitif should.

La Quintinye Rouge. Chocolate and coffee on the nose, it’s peppery and cough-syrup bitter, though still sweet. This is a complex and quality vermouth in a Manhattan or Negroni.

La Quintinye Blanc. A similar herbal scent and flavor profile to Extra Dry, but with a sweet and rounded finish. With less of the sharpness of the Extra Dry, and this is a tasty vermouth to drink on the rocks with a lemon twist or in this Martini variant:

Sweet White Martini

  • in a stirring glass, add:
  • 2 oz unaged Old Tom Gin (I used Brothers)
  • 1 oz La Quintinye Blanc
  • stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with a lemon twist


What is Vermouth? (Part 3)

vermouth bottle illustration part 3

Now that we’ve defined vermouth as a fortified, aromitized wine and talked about the different types of vermouth available, in this final installment of “What is Vermouth?”, I’ll give you some vermouth cocktail recipes to try and talk about how to care for your bottles.

As you look at cocktail recipes, pay attention in the cocktail recipe as to which type of vermouth you need – I’ll always specify sweet or dry here, occasionally maybe red or white, but remember that distinction is as important as whiskey or vodka in a drink.

Try these cocktails with your vermouth:

Sweet vermouth:

50-50 Martini

Dry vermouth:

Finally, proper storage of your vermouth is very important. Always store open vermouth bottles in the refrigerator, ideally not more than 1-2 months. Unfortunately, many bars don’t heed to this rule, and their vermouth-based drinks have a bad taste as a result. Because vermouth is made with wine, it has a limited shelf age once it’s opened and will become bitter and sour when spoiled.

I hope this has been a helpful series and that it’s taught you a little more about recognizing, buying, and using vermouth well in your cocktails. Let me know in the comments some of your favorite vermouth-based cocktails, and enjoy!

What is Vermouth? Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 or read the whole series in one post here.

For more reading on vermouth, including regional distinctions, please visit our friends at Vermouth 101.

What is Vermouth? (Part 2)

vermouth bottle illustration part 2

In Part 1 of our series “What is Vermouth?”, published earlier this week, we defined vermouth as a fortified, aromitized wine. Today, we’ll give you some information about the different types of vermouth that are available.

As I said previously, there is a big taste difference between cheap and quality vermouth – it’s a good idea to spend as much as you can afford. That being said, though, I regularly buy Noilly Prat or Martini & Rossi vermouth, both tried-and-true and just under $10 a bottle.

More important than the brand, though, is the type of vermouth you buy: sweet or dry. Usually, sweet vermouth is red and dry is white, but occasionally you’ll get a curveball, like Vya Whisper Dry, a slightly sweet (but still dry) white vermouth, or Dolin Blanc, a sweet white vermouth (used in the White Martinez recipe, shown below).

white martinez with hendricks

Unfortunately, the color of the vermouth is not necessarily going to make it easy to differentiate which style you’re buying. As I’ve noted, a white vermouth can be sweet or dry, a red can be syrupy sweet or quite bitter.  Often, the type of vermouth may be printed in Italian or French.

So here is a brief guide to vermouth names, though a better option would be to ask a helpful local liquor store employee for help (which is what I do). Other than the typical dry-white and sweet-red, you might also see: rosso (Italian for red), vermouth amaro (a bitter vermouth, like Punt e Mes), bianco (sweet white), blanc (sweet white), extra dry, rouge (a paler red), rosé (a pink vermouth, think White Zinfandel), or ambre (a copper/orange colored vermouth).

Now that we’ve (hopefully) got the proper vermouth for our home bar, the final step is using it and taking care of it…

What is Vermouth? Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 or read the whole series in one post here.

What is Vermouth? (Part 1)

vermouth bottle illustration part 1

I’ve told you that vermouth is one of the first 5 bottles you should buy for your home bar because it’s used in classic cocktails like the Martini and the Manhattan. Most people, however, have no idea what vermouth is, or that some vermouth tastes much better than others. So today, I’ll define vermouth for you and in my next post I’ll tell you what to do with it.

Vermouth is a fortified, aromitized wine. 

Vermouth is wine (red or white) that’s fortified through the addition of hard liquor (usually brandy). Other familiar fortified wines include Port, Sherry, and Madeira. Because they’re fortified, all of these wines are both higher in alcohol content and more “shelf stable” than regular wine – lasting several weeks before they need to be replaced. Vermouth is unique from these other fortified wines, though, because it’s also aromatized with herbs, spices, tree bark, seeds, and sometimes more.

Because of the complexity of vermouth, every element in the bottle affects the taste of the final product. The type of wine, the quality of the brandy fortifying it, and all of the aromatics contribute to the flavor, and the taste can vary greatly as a result. A vermouth can taste sweet, bitter, dry, herbal, cheap, syrupy – it can take on just about any flavor profile that you can imagine.

contratto vermouth

Here on the blog, I’ve covered some really high-quality vermouth, like Contratto (pictured) and Vya, and I’ve also used Trader Joe’s $4 vermouth from time to time, too. As I said in my Contratto post: “the extra money spent on a quality bottle of vermouth makes such a massive difference in the quality of my home cocktails, it’s impossible to ignore the value of it.”

Put simply, a better vermouth tastes better, and if you’ve ever shuddered at the taste of a $5 bottle of vermouth, then try something like Carpano Antica Formula, which will run you more like $30. When you taste them straight or maybe on the rocks like pictured above, the quality difference is very clear.

What is Vermouth? Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 or read the whole series in one post here.

Spodee White

spodee white

Spodee was one of the first liquors I reviewed at Simple Cocktails, almost exactly 2 years ago. The team behind some of the most unique drinks of our generation (for instance, Hendrick’s, Sailor Jerry Rum, and Art in the Age) are now introducing us to Spodee White.

On the podcast this week, we described the original, red Spodee as a cheap, strong, chocalatey wine…and we didn’t mean it in a negative way. Spodee Red goes well with stuff like soda (Spodee and Sody, he he) or even for breakfast with orange juice.

Now it’s time for the new stuff: Spodee White. Still packed in a 500 ml milk jug, and still a fortified wine at around 18% alcohol, White is a $9 “country wine” too, but a very different taste experience from Red.

Where the original Spodee was only fruity from the wine base, White has added coconut and pineapple, and is in many ways a ready-to-pour tiki drink. As of yet, I’ve been drinking it just as you see it above, straight out of the fridge and poured over ice. Like we mentioned on the podcast, I think an awesome way to serve White would be shaken with a equal part of coconut water.

Like many inventions from the minds at Quaker City Mercantile (and particularly from Steven Grasse), Spodee White is a unique liquor that opens up a world of great new cocktails. Every bit of liquor from them is edgy and new, and every detail of their presentation is respected and analyzed, but their ultimate goal is making great liquor, and they always tend to succeed.

Contratto Vermouth

contratto vermouth

Vermouth is an essential ingredient to many classic cocktails and is one of the first bottles you should buy for your home bar. Vermouth is an aromatized and fortified wine, like Sherry or Port. It lasts longer than wine, but once a bottle of vermouth is opened, it should be used within a month or two and you should keep it in the fridge so it stays fresh.

As I continue to learn more about vermouth, there’s something that you should also know as a home bartender: the difference between good (expensive) vermouth and bad (cheap) vermouth is huge. Cheap vermouths are often overly bitter and pretty abrasive, which has led to dryer and dryer martinis being served in bars (because cheap vermouth that’s long past it’s expiration date is especially awful). As much as my maven nature wants to fight it, it’s time to settle this once and for all: there’s no such thing as a vermouth that’s both good and cheap.

Which brings us to Contratto: a quality Italian vermouth that will run you about $30 a bottle:

Contratto Bianco is their “dry” version, a vermouth with a wonderful sweet citrus flavor – grapefruit with a touch of orange. This vermouth is so good, you should try it on the rocks at the start of a nice fish dinner. For martinis with Bianco, don’t garnish with the traditional olive, but add a lemon twist instead.

Contratto Rosso is a copper/brown and has a stronger, more bitter nose to it. It musky and woody and tastes like cloves, cinnamon, and bitter chocolate. It makes an amazing Manhattan, and yes, this one is also good enough to drink on it’s own. Try it neat with your dessert in the place of port.

Even though I’m very price-sensitive when I shop, I have had enough great vermouth now to know that the extra money spent on a quality bottle of vermouth, like Contratto or Vya, makes such a massive difference in the quality of my home cocktails, it’s impossible to ignore the value of it.

Coffee Cocktail

coffee cocktail recipe

The Coffee Cocktail is a classic recipe, traced back to Jerry Thomas’ 1887 Bartender’s Guide (Amazon link). Thomas’ original recipe appears above, and thankfully, The Cocktail Spirit has translated the old-timey language (“pony,” “goblet,” etc) into modern measurements.

As Jerry Thomas says, the Coffee Cocktail is apparently named after it’s visual appearance, because it contains no coffee. Here it is:

coffee cocktail

Coffee Cocktail

  • 1 1/2 oz port
  • 1 1/2 oz brandy
  • 1 tsp simple syrup
  • 1 whole egg
  • dash of bitters
  • put all ingredients into a shaker and shake without ice to froth the egg
  • add ice to the shaker and shake more to chill
  • pour into a chilled wine or cocktail glass

Special thanks to St. Clair, a local winery who provided me with their excellent Port for this recipe.

New York Sour

new york sour

I saw this recipe a few weeks ago at Bon Appetit and tried it that same day. It’s quite sweet and you could easily make a bowl of this as an adult punch for a party. Here’s how you make it:

New York Sour

  • in a cocktail shaker, add:
  • 2 oz rye whiskey (substitute bourbon if you’d like)
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 1 oz simple syrup
  • add ice, shake, and strain into an old fashioned glass filled with ice
  • slowly pour a fruity wine (I used Shiraz) over a barspoon into the glass so it floats on top of the cocktail

As you can see from my picture, the presentation is amazing. I found the “float” part to be much easier than I anticipated.