Yesterday, Jason Wilson of the Washington Post wrote of his experiences using wine--specifically the Yellowtail wine from Australia that he disdained--in cocktails and finding it pretty darn good. In the article he says our own SF bartender Neyah White of Nopa mixes Croft Pink, a new-styled port wine, "in an ice-filled highball glass with gin and orange bitters, then tops it with ginger beer." Does that sound good to your or bad? Could you imagine using your favorite Napa Cab in a drink or would you just prefer to drink it straight? Wine can be a harmonious blender, but it's definitely less alcohol and concentration than a spirit.
For the record, I talked to Neyah, and he said that he created the Croft recipe, but doesn't actually pour that cocktail or Croft Pink at Nopa. So, if you read the article, kindly don't seek out that drink. Neyah also said that wine cocktails are not really his thing. "What attracts me to them is the low alcohol and high punch," he told me, "yet a lot of those drinks just don't do it for me on the flavor level." When it comes to food and drink pairing, White says that "cocktails are a hammer, and wine is a knife"--and he likes the greater precision. But for a cocktail, he prefers the stronger stuff. Yet, Neyah admits that when there are occasional gaps in the wine list--do to a delivery missed or an inventory problem--and he's left without some of the more afforable, food friendly wines on the list--Beaujolais, for example--he'll sub a wine cocktail for the glass of wine. One of his favorites is Punt e Mes vermout with Sauvignon Blanc.
Largely I agree with Neyah. Wine cocktails do lack the intense punch of spirit based ones. Yet of course there is a great tradition of putting wine in drinks, especially if you count vermouth as a wine. Then you've got the Manhattan and the Martini, as well as a ton of other important drinks. If you don't count vermouth, then wine in drinks is few and far between. Cantina has a couple, and I've occasionally seen others around town, such as at Tsunami, where Jojo always made cool drinks with sake. Unlike Neyah, though, I'm all for these drinks. I love the low alcohol and the complexities wine can bring drinks as a base ingredient. And I'd love to know about your favorite wine cocktails from around town. Please send one in, if you have it.