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Wine cocktails, anyone?

Alok Chandra | July 20, 2005

This has to be an oxymoron, you may well be thinking, like 'soft rock' or 'business ethics' -- since when did wine start being made into cocktails?

True, a good wine is best savoured by itself, but then, are you sure the bottle you picked up for Rs 300 is a good wine? And how many of us can recognise a wine that is corked, or oxidised (the fate of about 10 per cent of all wines sold in our hot and humid climate with indifferent storage conditions the norm)?

Making cocktails can be interesting, even fun -- and if you've imbibed enough, can even give you some quite funny ideas!

And, of course, cocktails can be made with any wine -- even that Rs 100 bottle of plonk, or the bottle you opened two weeks back and never got round to finishing. Fittingly enough, among the many legends surrounding the origin of the term 'cocktail' is the one of a mixed (wine) drink called the 'coquetel' served in Bordeaux!

Among the most well-known wine cocktails is the Dry Martini made famous by Bond: dry vermouth with gin, strained through ice, with an olive.

Replace the olive with a pearl onion and you have a Gibson; use vodka instead of gin and you're imbibing a 007; substitute Campari for the white spirits and a sweet vermouth and there's the classic Americano.

Mix whisky with vermouth rosso and hey presto, you have the Manhattan! Indeed, vermouth (and it's distant Indian derivative, Goan port) is a versatile mixer that can be mixed with almost any spirit.

Then there are a whole range of champagne or sparkling wine-based cocktails: the Bellini (three parts chilled champagne, one part peach puree/juice); the Champagne Cocktail (half peg brandy, lemon twist, dash of bitters, top with champagne); the evocative Kir Royale (with crème de cassis; with white wine it's plain Kir); and my favourite Black Velvet, a mix of champagne and Guinness stout!

Back in the 1970s, some impecunious Californians invented wine coolers that were all the rage for some years.

Everyone has his or her own secret recipe but the basic concept is quite simple: lots of the stuff made for lots of people by mixing wine (your choice), fruit juice, sugar, brandy or rum, lemon peels, mint, and whatever else you want to use up in a large bowl and served up with a ladle. Careful, though -- the homemade brew can sometimes be quite potent.

Last Christmas, we ventured to make some Mulled Wine for our Bangalore Wine Club event held at Hatworks Boulevard: simmer some cinnamon, cloves and lemon rind strips with fine sugar in one cup of hot water, strain, and combine with bottle of red wine and two pegs of brandy. Serve with sprinkling of nutmeg powder. Good enough to warm the cockles of the coldest heart!

Last (but not least) is the Sangria, where one takes a variety of thinly sliced fruit (oranges, pineapples, limes) and steeps them in a bottle of red wine along with a few large tots of brandy, orange juice and fine sugar overnight, and serves the mixture along with a dash of soda the next afternoon. Perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

So the next time you're feeling restless about having yet another wine, try livening up things by experimenting with wine cocktails -- believe me, things do suddenly start looking up!

Share your favourite cocktail recipes with us.

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