Proof Positive: Hit or Mix

Fortified wine cocktails


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I was recently forced to join a group of British bartenders who were touring New York in search of the "Best Manhattan in Manhattan." It was a 13-hour ordeal that I'll never forget. Okay, I'll never forget the first ten hours. The end of the evening is somewhat of a blur. We started out at three o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, and about five hours later, after visiting quite a few prominent bars in the city, we went to Devin Tavern, a new joint in Tribeca. It was time for dinner, and a break from Manhattans. "I'll have a pint of Guinness with a shot of Port in it," one told the bartender.

Guinness and Port. A drink from my youth. I'd forgotten about this nectar. I told the bartender, make that two.

It's not uncommon to see the Portuguese drink white Port and tonic, a refreshing quaff in the warmer months. At the Symington family estates in Portugal—producers of Port labels such as Graham's, Dow's and Warre's—they make a drink called the Tawny Twist with Dow's, lime juice and grenadine. If the Symingtons are willing to mix it, then I think that we can consider permission granted.

Bartenders here in the USA get even more adventurous when using fortified wines in mixed drinks, and for some top-notch masters of the craft, using Port, Sherry and Madeira has become somewhat of a signature style. Take Jacques Bezuidenhout, bartender at Tres Agaves, a very busy Mexican restaurant in San Francisco, and he also consults with other bars and restaurants such as Harry Denton's Starlight Room, also in Fog City, and Urbana Restaurant and Wine Bar in Washington, D.C. His La Perla cocktail (see recipes) won first prize in a Sherry-cocktail competition held in New York, and he's also created drinks such as the Starlight 200. Jacques is a master of fortified wine cocktails.

David Wondrich, author of Killer Cocktails (Harper Collins, 2005), developed a rum-based drink called the Spanish Main using fino Sherry, which gives the cocktail a little additional dryness. Wondrich doesn't go for sweet when it comes to mixed drinks, so perhaps something like the Gonzalez Byass Fino Palomino Extra Dry bottling would fit well here, and the Sandeman's Don Fino would work well, too.

Patrick McCormick, bartender at The Oceanaire in Baltimore, matches ruby Port with Citadelle, a delightful French gin, to make his Portuguese General cocktail. Perhaps the Sandeman Ruby Porto would work well in the drink, or you could consider the Rozes Ruby bottling or the Cockburn's Fine Ruby Port. It would also be fun to make a Portuguese General with the Ramos-Pinto Collector's Port; its fig and berry notes could play nicely with the Citadelle gin.

I have to thank my friend, Paul Pacult, spirits tasting director at Wine Enthusiast, for pointing out to me some years ago that fortified wines form a bridge between wine and spirits. They are a hybrid of sorts. This observation made me think of Sherry, Port and Madeira in an entirely different way, and although it's seldom we see table wine being used in cocktails, aromatized wines such as vermouths and apéritif wines—think Dubonnet and Lillet—are commonly found in classic cocktails. It's obvious, then, that fortified wines make for great ingredients in mixed drinks.

Bartenders can be mischievous. And Jeff Grdinich of Stonehurst Manor in North Conway, New Hampshire, definitely leans toward the impish side when it comes to creating and naming his new cocktails. For instance, when he mixed Spanish blood orange juice with amontillado Sherry (Gonzalez Byass has a nice range of amontillados) and Tuaca, a liqueur from Italy, he decided to call the drink The Three Tenors. "I used two Spanish ingredients and one Italian," he explains.

Neyah White is somewhat of a legend in San Francisco. He currently works behind the bar at Nopa, an organic restaurant specializing in "wood-fired cuisine." White isn't shy when it comes to mixing ingredients, and his Pine Box cocktail stands tall in the glass; it's made with dry Sherry, peach bitters and Zirbenz, a pine-flavored liqueur from Austria. "This is a screwy [drink], but I kind of like it," he says. He should; it's startlingly good. There are floral notes in Zirbenz that mix well with the Sherry, and the pine scents send the drink into a whole other dimension.

In Burbank, California, Ted "Doctor Cocktail" Haigh, author of Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails (Fair Winds Press, 2004), recreates drinks from the past while also coming up with new concoctions of his own. The Curari Cocktail is one of the latter. It calls for a curious Italian product known as Amaro Cora. "I wanted to adapt a use for Amaro Cora, which, up to that time, had only appeared in one published cocktail—The Amarosa in the Café Royal Cocktail Book of 1937," says Haigh. Thinking that Amaro Cora was defunct, Haigh went to great lengths to find some at auction houses on the Internet, only to discover that he could buy it online from retail stores in New York. "The Amaro Cora was inexpensive and had a lovely flavor," he says.

It makes sense that Portuguese restaurants might use Port in their cocktails, and none that I know of is more cocktail-driven than Alfama in New York's Greenwich Village. Credit co-owner and wine & spirits director Tarcisio Costa for the cocktail side of things—and he's pretty good at coming up with names for his drinks, too i.e "The Shirley Temptress."

Dale "King Cocktail" DeGroff, author of the acclaimed Craft of the Cocktail (Clarkson Potter, 2002) used Port in his Golden Girl cocktail a little while back, and it garnered him first prize in the Bacardi Grand Prix competition. And Ektoras Binikos, head bartender at New York's Aureole restaurant, uses white Port in his cardamom-scented Winter Tale. Ethan Kelley, spirit sommelier at the Brandy Library in Manhattan, uses Port in his Librarian Cocktail, and in Kansas City, a certain Ryan C. Maybee, owner/sommelier at Jp Wine Bar and Coffee House, uses amontillado Sherry to make his Charbay Carnival.

Fortified wine cocktails are a nod to the past, but today, creative bartenders are ensuring that those drinks are both cool and contemporary. 
 


 

Cocktails Co-Starring Fortified Wines


Charbay Carnival
Adapted from a recipe by Ryan C. Maybee, owner/sommelier at Jp Wine Bar and Coffee House, Kansas City, Missouri.

1 1/2 ounces Charbay Pomegranate vodka
1 1/2 ounces Alvear Amontillado Sherry
Splash of fresh lemon juice
1 lemon twist, for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full of ice and add all of the ingredients. Shake for approximately 15 seconds, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and add the garnish.

 

Tawny Twist
Adapted from a recipe by Symington Family Estates in Portugal.

1 orange twist, for garnish
1 ounce grenadine
3 ounces Dow's tawny Port
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

Light a match and hold it over a chilled cocktail glass. Take the orange twist in your other hand and hold it by the sides. (The colored side of the twist should be pointing toward the glass.) Now hold the twist over the match and squeeze it to release its oils. You will see the droplets sparkle as they leap through the flame into the bottom of the glass. Drop the twist into the glass.

Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full of ice and add all of the ingredients. Shake for approximately 15 seconds, and strain into the cocktail glass.

 

Ruby Fizz
Adapted from a recipe by Symington Family Estates in Portugal.

6 ounces Champagne
1/2 ounce Dow's ruby Port
1/2 ounce Cognac

Pour the Champagne into a chilled flute. Add the Port and Cognac, without stirring.

 

La Perla
Adapted from a recipe by Jacques Bezuidenhout, bartender at Tres Agaves, San Francisco, California.

1 1/4 ounces Domecq Manzanilla Sherry
1 1/2 ounces Gran Centenario reposado Tequila
1 ounce Mathilde pear liqueur

Fill a mixing glass two-thirds full of ice and add all of the ingredients. Stir for approximately 30 seconds, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

 

The Starlight 200
Adapted from a recipe by Jacques Bezuidenhout, bartender at Tres Agaves, San Francisco, California.

1 1/2 ounces Plymouth gin
3/4 ounce Leacock's Madeira
1/2 ounce Otima 10-year-old tawny Port
Dash Angostura bitters
1 orange twist, for garnish

Fill a mixing glass two-thirds full of ice and add all of the ingredients. Stir for approximately 30 seconds, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and add the garnish.

 

Spanish Main
Adapted from a recipe by David Wondrich, author of Killer Cocktails.

1 1/2 ounces Mount Gay Eclipse Rum
1 ounce fino Sherry
Scant 1/2 ounce John D. Taylor's Velvet Falernum
Pinch Cayenne pepper, for garnish
1 orange twist, for garnish

Fill a mixing glass two-thirds full of ice and add all of the ingredients. Stir for approximately 30 seconds, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Dust with the Cayenne pepper.

Light a match and hold it close to the top of the drink. Take the orange twist in your other hand and hold it by the sides. (The colored side of the twist should be pointing toward the drink.) Now hold the twist over the match and squeeze it to release its oils. You will see the droplets sparkle as they leap through the flame onto the top of the drink. Drop the twist into the glass.

 

Portuguese General
Adapted from a recipe by Patrick McCormick, bartender at The Oceanaire, Baltimore, Maryland.

1 orange wedge
1/4 ounce simple syrup
2 1/2 ounces Citadelle gin
3/4 ounce ruby Port

Put the orange wedge, simple syrup, and some ice into an empty mixing glass and grind them with a wooden muddler until all the juices have been extracted from the orange. Add enough ice to fill the glass two-thirds full and add the gin and port. Shake for approximately 15 seconds, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

 

Three Tenors
Adapted from a recipe by Jeff Grdinich, bartender at Stonehurst Manor, North Conway, New Hampshire.

3 ounces Tuaca
1/2 ounce Amontillado Sherry
2 ounces fresh blood orange juice
1 teaspoon orange flower water
2 dashes Regans' Orange Bitters, No. 6
Pinch grated nutmeg, for garnish
1 blood orange slice, for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full of ice and add all of the ingredients. Shake for approximately 15 seconds, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and add the garnishes.

 

The Pine Box
Adapted from a recipe by Neyah White, bartender at Nopa, San Francisco, California.

2 ounces fino Sherry
1/2 ounce Zirbenz
Smallest dash peach bitters

Fill a mixing glass two-thirds full of ice and add all of the ingredients. Stir gently for approximately 30 seconds, and strain into a chilled Sherry glass.

 

Curari Cocktail
Adapted from a recipe by Ted Haigh, author of Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.

2 ounces rye whiskey
3/4 ounce ruby Port
3/4 ounce Cora Amaro
2 dashes Regans' Orange Bitters, No. 6
1 maraschino cherry, for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full of ice and add all of the ingredients. Shake for approximately 15 seconds, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and add the garnish.

 

Shirley Temptress
Adapted from a recipe by Tarcísio Costa, wine & spirits director at Alfama, New York, New York.

1 orange twist, for garnish
2 1/2 ounces Rainha Santa tawny Port
1 ounce Ponte de Amarante brandy
1/2 ounce grenadine
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
Small dash Pernod

Light a match and hold it over the chilled cocktail glass. Take the orange twist in your other hand and hold it by the sides. (The colored side of the twist should be pointing toward the glass.) Now hold the twist over the match and squeeze it to release its oils. You will see the droplets sparkle as the droplets leap through the flame into the glass.

Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full of ice and add all of the ingredients. Shake for approximately 15 seconds, and strain into the cocktail glass.

Drop the twist into the glass.

 

Golden Girl
Adapted from a recipe by Dale DeGroff, author of The Craft of the Cocktail.

2 ounces Bacardi 8-year-old rum
1 ounce simple syrup
2 ounces pineapple juice
1 1/2 ounces Offley rich tawny Port
1 small egg
Pinch grated orange peel, for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full of ice and add all of the ingredients. Shake for approximately 15 seconds, strain into 2 chilled cocktail glasses, and add the garnish. Serves 2.

 

Cherry Blossom Martini
Adapted from a recipe by Joe McCanta, beverage director at S.A.F. Organic Restaurant, Istanbul, Turkey.

1 1/2 ounces Organic Floc de Gascogne
3/4 ounce sake
1 1/2 ounces lychee juice
1/4 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce organic cherry juice
1 whole lychee nut, for garnish
2 dried cherries, soaked overnight in lychee wine or a mixture of 1 part brandy and 1 part lychee juice, for garnish

Fill a mixing glass two-thirds full of ice and add all of the ingredients. Stir for approximately 30 seconds, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. To garnish, cut the lychee nut in half and thread onto a skewer or cocktail straw, sandwiching the cherries in between.

 

Winter Tale
Adapted from a recipe by Ektoras Binikos, head bartender at Aureole New York, New York City.

1 cardamom seed
2 to 3 dashes Regans' Orange Bitters, No. 6
1 ounces Churchill's white Porto
1/2 ounce aquavit
1/2 ounce Belle de Brillet Liqueur Originale Poire Williams Au Cognac

Put the cardamom seed and bitters into an empty mixing glass and grind them with a wooden muddler until the cardamom is well crushed.  Fill the glass two-thirds full of ice and add the remaining ingredients. Shake for approximately 15 seconds, and strain into a chilled Riesling glass.

 

Sherman's Revenge
Adapted from a recipe by Eric Simpkins, bartender at Pegu Club, New York City

3 orange twists, for garnish
2 1/2 ounces Old Overholt rye whiskey
1 ounce Pedro Ximenez sweet cream Sherry
Dash Regans' Orange Bitters, No. 6

Light a match and hold it over a chilled cocktail glass. Take the orange twist in your other hand and hold it by the sides. (The colored side of the twist should be pointing toward the glass.) Now hold the twist over the match and squeeze it to release its oils. You will see the droplets sparkle as they leap through the flame into the glass. Repeat with a second twist; discard both.

Fill a mixing glass two-thirds full of ice and add all of the ingredients. Stir for approximately 30 seconds, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Flame the remaining twist, holding it close to the top of the drink and dropping it into the drink afterward.

 

Jerez Manhattan
Adapted from a recipe by Tim Wilson, beverage director for Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, Las Vegas, Nevada.

2 ounces Maker's Mark Bourbon
1 ounce Lustau Pedro Ximenez Sherry
1 thin slice fig, for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full of ice and add all of the ingredients. Shake for approximately 15 seconds, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and add the garnish.

 

The Librarian
Adapted from a recipe by Ethan Kelley, spirit sommelier at Brandy Library, New York City.

2 1/2 ounces Cognac
1 ounce LBV ruby Port
1/2 ounce Chambord
1 orange twist, for garnish
1 raspberry, for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full of ice and add all of the ingredients. Shake for approximately 15 seconds, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and add the garnish, skewering the raspberry.

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