Brandy: Refinement is Everything

<< Back to Robb Report, October 2004

Thanks to the creation of the wine cocktail, oenophiles are not ostracized from the world of mixology. Consider, for instance, the classic Bellini (three parts of Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine, and one part of peach nectar) or a Fino Fizz (champagne splashed with lemon and a dry and light fino sherry). Both are perfect pairings for an afternoon alfresco get-together.

An aged red or white wine flavored with herbs and spices, vermouth is a wine-based standard for mixology. Joseph Noilly was the first to perfect vermouth, in 1813 in France. Legend says Carpano Punt e Mes, the richest and most complex Italian vermouth, was created in 1870, a time when Italian barmen added bitters to red or white wine in “points” to make an ad hoc aperitif.
Most popular among the white, or French, vermouths is Noilly Prat, which is pale and nutty in flavor, while the red or sweet versions, such as Cinzano Rosso, are Italian in origin and are, not surprisingly, often lush and spicy in character.

Bordeaux’s Lillet, a wine-based aperitif that tastes similar to Cinzano, is preferred over vermouth by many martini lovers. It is flavored with liqueurs made from several varieties of Spanish, Haitian, and Moroccan oranges, and offers a hint of bitterness from quinine.

Fortified wines such as Madeira, port, and sherry have been adding some kick to mixed punches since the 18th century. At Alfama, a Portuguese restaurant in Greenwich Village, Tarcisio Costa serves the luscious Amalia: two parts of Offley white port, one part of Stolichnaya Ohranj, a splash of tonic, and a dash of bitters.

Consider red and white versions of the always festive sangria—generously sweetened with apple, orange, banana, watermelon, or nearly any other fruit. Mix it with the best wine you can bear to pour into a punch bowl, including the charming Chalone Pinot Blanc or the bright and lively Rochioli Estate Pinot Noir.

Every well-stocked bar should have both red and white vermouth on hand. Noilly Prat is the ne plus ultra of the whites, while Quady Vya sweet vermouth is a  leading American red version.

Lady Macbeth
{A killer wine cocktail}
4 oz. Sandeman 2000 Vau Vintage Port
2 oz. Gloria Ferrer 1995 Royal Cuvée sparkling wine
Blend the port and the sparkling wine in a Champagne flute. Squeeze the lemon over the cocktail and add for garnish.

Kir Impérial
{The other way to enjoy Champagne}
2 oz. crème de cassis  |  1 oz. kirsch
2 oz. crushed ice
Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial
Mix the cassis and kirsch in a shaker with crushed ice. Strain into a large wineglass and top off with cold Champagne.

Roman Gigolo
{An afternoon of la dolce far niente}
1 oz. Cinzano Rosso vermouth  |  1¼2 oz. Campari
3 oz. ice cubes  |  San Pellegrino sparkling water
Orange and lime slices for garnish
Pour the vermouth and Campari into an ice-filled collins glass. Stir well and top with sparkling water. Garnish with orange and lime.

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