Wine cocktails are enjoying an increase in popularity once more.
Here's my cocktail confession: I blanch at the thought of Buck's Fizz in its pollution of champagne; consider kir as too often a cover-up for bad wine that no one should be drinking in the first place and see spritzers as sacrilegious dilution. So it was with some suspicion that I eyed a box that recently arrived at my office, containing the ingredients to make a local wine concoction.
Tales of wealthy Chinese mixing top Bordeaux wines with Sprite to make them more to their taste has sent a chill up the spine of many a wine purist. And I have to admit that despite the long history of the wine cocktail, the thought of adding anything to even lowlier wines has historically made me flinch.
My misgivings about mixing wine, or indeed something like a fine whisky for that matter, are founded on my perception that it's already a complete product. Its maker has expertly blended its various components and, I have always maintained, that what they've put in the bottle is best not meddled or indeed muddled with.
Mild amusement prompted by some of the ridiculous names and stories behind wine cocktails is the most positive response I've had with them to date. I couldn't help but smirk at the One-Balled Dictator: a violently shaken combination of Liebfraumilch and champagne poured over a single cinnamon ball allegedly drunk by World War II veterans and giving rise to the crude song about Hitler.
But I wouldn't want to drink one ... or two.
However, now in possession of the alchemical kit to make La Sangria Robada Rosé, armed with a plastic cocktail sword, I decided to give it a go and explore the dark art of the wine cocktail.
La Sangria Robada Rosé is the brainchild of Oliver Scutts, from quality Marlborough wine label Rochfort Rees, and Jamie Duff, from the trendy Stolen Rum brand. What an earth was Scutts thinking of putting his premium New Zealand wine into a cocktail?
"As the young blood of the New Zealand wine industry, it's a great idea to expose new products in interesting and creative ways that haven't been done before," he explains. "My rosé is a stand-alone fantastic product, but I also think it is interesting and fun for young and older people to be able to enjoy it in a variety of ways."
In the uneasy role as mixologist, I created the cocktail for a group of friends one evening. The blend of rosé, white rum, agave syrup, nectarine, cinnamon, peppercorns and basil proved a hit. Even with me, I reluctantly report.
After speaking with Scutts, I could also see that rather than debasing a product, using wine in cocktails could be used to get a new generation into wine, and potentially away from those most monstrous of mixes, the RTD.
"I believe that over the coming years, more and more young New Zealanders will switch to drinking wine over other products on the market, especially when they realise the quality of what is on their doorstep," says Scutts. "So if the sangria gets people into rosé, then from there into wine, I believe it's all for the better."
In city bars, it's become increasingly apparent that the Bellini, the Aperol spritz and new twists on sangria are being quaffed by a growing number of their clientele. "Wine cocktails are having a resurgence," confirms veteran mixologist, Del Herewini, bar manager of the Wynyard Quarter's recently opened Merchants of Venice. "They work, they're good for wine sales and people seem to really appreciate them."
While I'm not a total convert and I'd still never recommend adding anything to a fine wine, this recent foray into the world of the wine cocktail has left me with a view of the phenomenon that's certainly less sour.
STRAIGHT OR MIXED
Rochfort Rees Marlborough Rosé 2011 $19.95
While working well as part of La Sangria Robada Rosé, on its own this is an attractive and easy-drinking rosé that's fresh and citrusy, lifted with strawberry and raspberry fruit and a civilised 11.5 per cent alcohol. (From The Wine Vault.)
Dibon Brut Reserve Cava $23.95
Sparkling wines are an ingredient of many wine cocktails. If you must mix, go for something fresh and relatively simple, such as this light and crisp cava, which is also rather good on its own. (From Caro's, Fine Wine Delivery Company, Wine and More, Scenic Cellars, Glengarry, Point Wines.)
Heart of Gold Single Vineyard Gisborne Chardonnay Viognier 2009 $26
The combination with which I'm still most comfortable: where the winemaker has made the final blend. This time with two complementary grape varieties, which successfully combine the opulent apricot fruit and viscous texture of viognier with chardonnay's crisp citrus character, bound by a rich, toasty note. (From Blend, Bacchus, Liquorland Gisborne.)