Warm weather means it’s time to drink rosé

Thankfully, winter’s icy grip is nothing but a fading nightmare now. Warm weather means different things to everyone. For some, it’s the beach, outdoor grilling and sports, and for others, it represents the time to get their yards or vegetable gardens growing. Each of those things is certainly worthy, but none as fun to me as always having at least one bottle of delicious, dry rosé in my refrigerator ready to go. I’ll drink them all year round, but when the thermostat starts going up, my consumption of them does too. Here are three I just tasted that are delicious, fairly priced and very different from one another.

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Michael Torino 2014 Malbec Rosé

All of the fruit for this wine was sourced in the Cafayete region of Argentina. It’s composed entirely of Malbec and all of the grapes are from estate vineyards. After pressing, the juice had minimal contact with skins to achieve its color. After that, fermentation and vinification follows the same protocol used for white wines. Suggested retail price is $12. The first thing that stands out about this rosé is the color, which is deeper and darker than average. Wild ripe strawberry and red cherry aromas leap from the nose here along with a touch of vanilla bean. The palate is loaded with a bevy of sumptuous fruit flavors such as cherry, raspberry and bits of red plum. Sour cherry and a hint of white pepper are each substantial parts of the finish, which has good length. This rosé has a bit more weight than usual and will stand up to more substantial foods.

Hecht & Bannier 2014 Cotes de Provence Rosé

This offering is a classic blend of Cinsault (45%), Grenache (30%) and Syrah (25%). All of the fruit came from the limestone laden foothills of Montagne Sainte Victoire. The Grenache and Syrah are macerated together for maximum integration. Suggested retail price is $18. The pale pink hue of this offering from Provence is precisely the color in my mind’s eye when rosé comes to mind. Light red fruit aromas fill the nose along with subtle bits of tropical fruit. The palate is gently layered with oodles of continued fruit and accompanying spices. The finish is long and persistent with crisp acid. The lingering impression is of being refreshed. This wine pairs well with light food and is also just fabulous all by itself.

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Pascal Jolivet 2014 Sancerre Rosé

The fruit for this wine comes from France’s Loire Valley. It’s composed entirely of Pinot Noir. It was produced using two methodologies: saignée and direct press. It was fermented exclusively in stainless steel utilizing only native yeasts. Suggested retail price is $23. Strawberry aromas are underscored by a hint of pink grapefruit and crème fraiche on the nose. Wisps of bay leaf and thyme show up on the palate alongside tons more red fruit flavors, mainly in the form of strawberry. The finish shows off, firm crisp acidy and plenty of spice. This is a beautiful expression of rosé that will pair well with a wide array of foods.

If you don’t think you like rosé, I’d venture to guess you’re drinking the wrong ones. Each of the three above could easily be the right one. It all depends on what flavors you enjoy and what sort of food you’ll be eating. So figure out which one sounds most appealing and grab a bottle. If you do, I’m willing to bet you’ll be drinking rosé all summer long too. Cheers!

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Drink of the Week: The Fin de Siècle

the Fin de Siècle.“Fin de siècle” is French for “end of the century, which means that we’ve all missed our opportunity by 15 years to have a  Fin de Siècle at the most appropriate point possible, assuming we were old enough to drink in 2000. Or, if you want to look at it the other way, we’ve all got 85 years to work on preparing the perfect Fin de Siècle in time for 2100.

The truth is, however, that the real roots of this post go back not to Y2K but to last week. My copy of Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails having been destroyed by a backed-up sink…yes, I leave cocktail books on the sink sometimes and, yes, I’m paying the price…I found myself seeing a number of somewhat similar cocktails in Robert Hess’s accurately named The Essential Cocktail Guide. Like last week’s drink, today’s drink contains sweet vermouth, orange bitters, and Torani Amer, substituting for Amer Picon — easily the most commonly called-for modern day cocktail ingredient that you can’t find anywhere in North America.

The main difference, aside from the proportions, is that our base spirit is changed out from whiskey to gin. The result is a bit lighter and drier, but no less tasty and sophisticated.

The Fin de Siècle

1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Torani Amer (or Amer Picon, if live in Europe or own a time machine)
1 dash orange bitters

Combined all ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. Stir vigorously — or shake, gently, if you’re feeling rebellious — and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast anything that has come to conclusion or shortly will, including your tasty Fin de Siècle. Nothing lasts forever, after all, least of all a good cocktail.

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I saw a few recipes online for this that mentioned Plymouth Gin, but most people seem to use your more garden variety London Dry style gin. I used premium (but I guess not super premium) Bombay Dry Gin and good ol’ value-priced Gordon’s Gin, both with results that were more than satisfactory.

I actually found that,much more than with the gin, my choice of sweet vermouth made a far more dramatic difference in the flavor. I was very happy with my Fin de Siècle when I used Noilly Pratt — my personal default sweet vermouth in slight preference to Martini or Cinzano. Still, there was no topping the slightly bitter, almost chocolate-like undercurrents of Carpano Antica; sometimes you just can’t argue with the cocktail snobs. If you want a sweeter drink that’s nevertheless not too offensive, I had decent luck replacing Torani Amer with Amaro CioCiara, suggested by some as another Amer Picon substitute.

Finally, yes, you can shake this drink but that’s not my preference this time around. For starters, this is second cousin to a gin martini. (We’ll be getting to it’s first cousin very soon). I really do think there may be something to the idea that shaking can “bruise” gin, i.e., add a slightly unpleasant bitterness. Mainly, though, I don’t think the additional water/ice crystals that shaking generates really flatters the Fin de Siècle. I think this may be a drink that wants to be cool, but not ice cold.

Now, have a great Memorial Day weekend. Maybe it’s a good time to remember what life could be, if only we were all nice enough and smart enough.

  

Drink of the Week: The Liberal

the Liberal.The Liberal’s history goes back to before the turn of the 20th century, which means it’s probably dangerous to make any strong connections with modern day political affiliations, especially since this drink doesn’t have any particular story to go with it. When it comes to political labels, in any case, a lot of things have changed since 1895. That’s why modern day conservative writers feel like they can argue that they are the real liberals — as in libertarian — while today’s liberals are, in fact, fascists — a political affiliation that I’m pretty sure didn’t exist when the Liberal was first being mixed. Also, I think there’s maybe kind of a big difference between Benito Mussolini and Adlai Stevenson.

Still, as someone who has been a proud and very unapologetic actual bleeding heart liberal since the age of 12 or so, I can’t but be attracted to a drink with this name. If your politics are different than my own, however, I can reassure you that drinking the Liberal won’t impact your voting choices next year. Well, as long as you don’t drink five of them on election day, in which case you might find yourself voting for people who are dead, fictitious, or named “Huckabee.”

I can say that I like this version of the drink, which is primarily drawn from the recipe in cocktail historian Ted Haigh’s cocktail revival ur-volume, Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails. There is a stronger, larger, and less sweet version of this drink, but I don’t love it. Yes, this Liberal is open to charges of being subtly reactionary and stingy to boot. Nevertheless, our taste buds know no ideology and are immune to purity trolling. So, let’s get started.

The Liberal

3/4 ounce bourbon or rye
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 teaspoon Torani Amer
1-2 dashes orange bitters
1 cocktail cherry (very desirable garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a mixing glass or a cocktail shaker. Add ice and stir vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, preferably a smaller one, and add the cocktail cherry of your choice.

As for your toast, I can’t tell you what to think or do, but you might consider the people who brought us the 8 hour day, the 40 hour work week, the minimum wage, child labor laws, and now accessible healthcare (guaranteed 100% death panel free). If you’d rather not have those things, you can still drink this, of course, but make sure you drink it from a clean glass and don’t get sick and lose your job, because then you’ll be on your own.

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In his book,Ted Haigh calls for using 100 proof Wild Turkey, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and 3 dashes of Amer Picon, which brings up a few issues. For starters, there’s no such thing as 100 proof Wild Turkey these days, not precisely. Instead, we have Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon and Rye. I’m not sure which he meant, or whether the rye was even available when he first recreated the recipe. Since I had the 101 proof bourbon on hand already on hand left over from my pre-Derby Day post, that’s what I used first, along with the always excellent, if pricey, Carpano. Amer Picon is simply impossible to obtain, so I went with the most common substitute, Torani Amer, which is easily obtainable here in California, in any case. As for three dashes…how much is that and where I am supposed to find an amaro in a bottle with a dasher top?

Having made my adjustments, my first attempt at a Liberal was pretty excellent. Sweet, but not one bit cloying and complex enough for slow sipping, with a chocolatey undercurrent thanks to the Carpano. I followed it up with other versions, including ones with 1776 100 proof rye and my cheaper default sweet vermouth, Noilly Pratt. They were less rich in flavor, but still had plenty of complex, more floral, notes to keep your mouth good and busy.

One thing about this drink that surprised me, however, is that it really doesn’t seem to work shaken, which is my usual contrarian preference with the drink’s fairly close relative, the Manhattan. No, this one time the cocktail cognoscenti dogma about stirring over shaking drinks without juice in them proves to be correct. As usual, I could not care less about “clouding” drinks by shaking them. However, I do care a lot about flavor, and the Liberal simply tastes better that way. When I figure out how that reflects my political/philosophical leanings, I’ll let you know.

 

  

Drink of the Week: The Spicy Cerveza Cocktail

the Spicy Cerveza Cocktail.I’m sure that many will never forgive my decision last week to favor Derby Day over Cinco de Mayo which, alas and alack, passed us by last Tuesday. Still, this week I have been gifted by the PR gods of Big Cocktail with a drink so muy delicioso that it’s worth celebrating on el Ocho de Mayo, el Nuevo de Mayo, or pretty much any day of the year.

As the name implies to anyone with a basic Los Angeleno knowledge of the Spanish language, the Spicy Cerveza Cocktail contains, you guessed it, beer. While I’ve been messing around with cocktails combining brews with various hard liquors for some time, the combination of Hornitos Plata Tequila — last featured here back on el Cinco de Julio — and the good Mexican lager of your choice makes for a drink that manages to be flavorful, refreshing, and pretty strong. Kind of like a more macho variation on a really good margarita. Let’s get started.

The Spicy Cerveza Cocktail

1 1/2 ounces Hornitos Plata Tequila (“plata” means the clear stuff)
4 ounces Mexican lager
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup (2 1/2 teaspoons of superfine sugar will also work)
1 slice of fresh jalapeno
Salt

Start with a good sized glass — I had the best luck using a double rocks glass — rimmed with salt. Toss in your jalapeno slice and muddle it with a certain degree of vigor. Next, combine tequila, lime juice and simple syrup/sugar in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake very vigorously. Strain into your glass, which by now should be filled with sufficient ice…but leaving room for four ounces of your all-important cerveza. Top the drink with the beer, and begin to sip, but not too quickly.This is a drink that benefits from taking your time.

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This is also a beverage that develops as you drink it. If you’re the patient type, sip slowly. You’ll start out mostly tasting the beer but, as you go,you’ll get closer to the chewy tequila/lime/sugar/jalapeno center. The cool part is that the fizziness of the Mexican lager will still be there as you continue. If you’re impatient to get to the drink’s margarita center, though, feel free to stir it, but do so very gently.

Finally, this is a drink that can stand up to some variation. For my beers, I went with Corona and Pacifico, and both were just dandy. I suspect Dos Equis, Tecate, et al, will also be just fine. Since this drink comes to from the PR gods who have gifted me with a free bottle or two, I naturally recommend you use Hornitos Plata as your tequila and not just because I’ve been corrupted; its very slight sweetness complements the Spicy Cerveza Cocktail pretty beautifully. However, I did experiment with a very well known Brand X plata on one try, and the results were not horrific.

  

Drink of the Week: The Grandstand Julep

the Grandstand Julep.The first week in May is always a dilemma in the making here at Drink of the Week Plaza as it actually pits two of the year’s biggest drinking excuses holidays against each other. Since tomorrow is Derby Day and Cinco de Mayo is in the middle of next week, I’m going to start with that and follow it up with a belated Mexican-themed cocktail for next week. Not ideal, I know. It is, of course, entirely coincidental that mysterious forces bribed gifted me with a free bottle of Wild Turkey 101 Straight Bourbon and this week’s intriguing, imaginative variation on a traditional Mint Julep.

Though I still have a spot soft for good Old Fitzgerald when you can find it, I have to admit that this expression of one of the best known names in American whiskey is about as good a high-proof bourbon as you’re likely to get for under $20.00 for a fifth. It offers a very nice balance of sweet and tough flavors that have made for plenty of good reviews and a number of good cocktails.

Which brings us to this week’s variation on the ultimate Derby Day classic. It pairs the bourbon with, of all things, an artichoke-derived amaro-style liqueur beloved of the cocktail cognoscenti. Can these two crazy ingredients have a shot at a long and happy life together? Let’s find out.

The Grandstand Julep

1 1/2 ounces Cynar
3/4 ounce Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
12 mint leaves
2 ounces soda water
2 dashes Fee Brother’s Grapefruit Bitters

Build this one in a julep cup if you’ve got one and a good size rocks glass if you don’t. (I don’t!) Combine the Cynar, Wild Turkey, juice, mint leaves (given the differing sizes of mint leaves, the number is an approximation at best), and simple syrup…you can also substitute two and half teaspoons of superfine sugar if that’s easier. Gently muddle the leaves in the liquid.

Next, add crushed ice, follow with the soda water and then top the whole thing off with the grapefruit bitters. Start to sip slowly and toast our equine friends. Alternatively, you can toast W.C. Fields, who is supposed to have said that horse sense is what keeps horses from betting on people.

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While you could theoretically try this drink with another bourbon (it better be a strong one), there isn’t much room for messing around with the main ingredients here. Mainly that’s because there’s only one one type of Cynar available and it’s made by the manufacturers of Campari.

The exception is actually your ice, which really does need to be crushed. I’m lazy and tried this drink several times with ordinary ice and found it tasty and relatively well balanced but bordering on cloying. Crushing the ice, while admittedly a bit of a hassle, opened the drink up and took the edge off the very sweet/very bitter flavors. My only other advice is not to drink this one too fast. You want to let that crushed ice melt a bit. Take your time with this one and leave the racing to the horsies.

  

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