One of the best things about hosting a holiday get-together is all the bottles of wine your guests bring as gifts. But once all the tasty reds and whites have been uncorked, there’s bound to be a few stragglers that get passed over because they’re not very good.
These undrinkables will languish in the lower rungs of your wine rack for months, even years on end. And don’t even think of regifting them either – the first rule of bringing wine to a party is don’t bring anything you wouldn’t serve yourself. No matter how nicely you wrap it up, presenting your host with a bottle of your dad’s, er, “full-bodied” basement batch is a major faux pas.
That said, no matter how bad, there’s something inherently wrong with pouring an entire bottle of wine down the toilet. So what’s to be done?
The answer is simple: use the wine as a mixer. In the same way that any old tequila blanco can be shaken into a decent margarita with the help of lime, salt, and Triple Sec, bad wine can be sweetened, mixed and mulled into something that’s not just drinkable but lip-smackingly delish.
Try some of these tasty suggestions on the stragglers in your cellar:
The Wine Access a.k.a. The Commonwealth Cobbler
The RedPoint Media and Marketing Solutions company Christmas party at Commonwealth Bar and Stage this year featured signature cocktails for the various Redpoint magazines.
Naturally, the cocktail named after Wine Access magazine started with a 3 oz. pour of red wine (in this case a Yard Dog blend of cabernet and petit verdot). Added to that was 0.5 oz. of Triple Sec, 3 lemon slices, 1 tsp. raw sugar and 1 oz. each of soda and orange juice. Also known as the “Commonwealth Cobbler,” the potent mixture was shaken and double strained into a chilled martini glass and garnished with an orange twist for a super-festive flavour.
Adrian Murphy, assistant manager at Raw Bar at the Hotel Arts suggests turning overpowering, jammy red wines into a blueberry shrub cocktail – the shrub’s defining feature being a simple syrup made with white vinegar for a citrusy zip.
To make blueberry shrub syrup, combine 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup vinegar and 1 cup of blended blueberries and heat until dissolved. Mix with 2 oz. of wine, a dash of cinnamon syrup and a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime (or both). Serve over ice in a plain rocks glass.
Raw Bar‘s Murphy also has a solution for sub-standard white wines: mix them in a Collins glass with soda, gin, simple syrup and fresh lemon, and you have yourself a pretty decent substitute for the classic French 75 Champagne cocktail.
Ice Wine Martini
While many people enjoy sipping icewine, its powerful sweetness and syrupy body isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Even so, it’s an oft-gifted item during the holiday season and you’re bound to end up with at least one or two bottles in your possession. The solution? Add vodka and mix yourself up an ice-wine martini.
Niagra-based ice winemaker Peller Estates suggests several different treatments. The “Classic” is equal parts icewine and vodka garnished with frozen grapes, while the “Riesling Apple Icewine Martini” is 1 oz. Riesling icewine, 1 oz. vodka and 0.5 oz. of apple liqueur, garnished with a baby crabapple. Awwww….
A great way to rescue an unsavoury red is to use it as the base for sangria, the wine punch with origins in Spain (the name is derived from the Spanish word for blood). All you need is your bottle of red, a schwack of chopped fresh fruits such as lemon, lime, apple, orange, peach or melon and a sweetening agent such as honey, sugar or simple syrup, (if you so desire, a bit of brandy is also a nice touch).
Kelly Black of Ox and Angela restaurant says the secret to super sangria is let the fruit steep in the wine as long as possible. In Spain, says Black, it’s common see tubs of sangria sitting out in the sun for days. Since that method doesn’t exactly jive with Canadian wintertime, add a splash of 7-Up to mimic the fizz of fermenting fruit.
Warming up wine and infusing it with spices is another way to bolster the flavour of an unimpressive bottle. The Silk Road Spice Merchant sells a signature mulling blend of cinnamon, allspice, cloves, orange peel, cardamom and mace. Its instructions for a perfect mull say to use 1-2 tbsp. of spice per bottle of red wine.
Since the spices need to simmer for a bit to release their flavour, it’s recommended to simmer in water for 10 minutes, then pour the water out and add the wine, the reason being if you add the wine right away you’ll end up simmmering out all the alcohol content (maybe not such a bad thing?). The longer the mull, the stronger the flavour. Silk Road suggests 5-15 minutes. Add a dash of brandy (again with the brandy) and a sweetening agent such as sugar, honey or simple syrup to taste.