The Sherry Sangaree Cocktail

Sherry may be out of fashion right now, but this cocktail will surely have you bringing it back. The Sangaree Cocktail livens up dry sherry with Cointreau, simple syrup, and a lemon twist--perfect if you're a dry sherry newbie or are in the mood for something a little different...and delicious.

Oh sherry, why must you be out of fashion?

I love sherry and its story. You want to learn about a wine that is taken pretty seriously? Research Sherry. There are entire books written about sherry, and rightfully so--sherry is awesome. It happens to be one of the most complex fortified wines out there and therefore can be pretty confusing. If you're not familiar, Sherry is from the Jerez region of Spain. Its HOT down there, and the climate of the region creates an environment perfect for the grapes going into Sherry that no other region in the world can replicate. So, really, Sherry is pretty freaking special and one of the coolest fortified wines out there (in my opinion).

But sherry indeed fell out of fashion in the 20th century thanks to changing tastes and bad economies. Here in America, its hard to find something decent beyond "cooking" sherry. Such a shame. But don't worry friends, good sherry is out there, and you should find yourself a bottle. There are various types of sherry: Fino sherry (aka dry Sherry) which is the most delicate and famous sherry out there; Oloroso sherry, which is darker in color and fairly dry as well (although in this country they are predominantly sweet); and cream sherry, which is perhaps the most popular because of its sweet, dessert-style flavor.

Confused? Don't worry, you don't need to be a sherry expert. But you do need to make sure you have the right sherry for the cocktail you're making. One of my favorite cocktails in the entire world, the Andalucia, calls for cream sherry. The one I'm sharing with you today calls for dry sherry. Dry sherry indeed tastes...dry. Its also nutty and can have a "salty" taste to it which freaks people out. I love sampling people on dry sherry for the first time and seeing the reaction on their faces--the "dryness" is just something we're not used to drinking, so it tastes weird at first. But its delicious as an aperitif (as a cocktail before your meal) and ESPECIALLY delicious with nutty cheeses (mmmm....Manchego). If you buy a bottle though and its not your cup of tea, that's okay. Make yourself this Sangaree cocktail and it will surely change your mind!

The Recipe

I stumbled upon this recipe one evening in my favorite cocktail recipe book, The Ultimate Bar Book (highly recommended). Friends, I gotta say, this cocktail is freaking delicious. Especially if you are not a sherry fan. I don't really know how to explain it, but the harmony between the Cointreau and sherry is beautiful while the simple syrup livens everything up. But you have to be careful--it has 4 ounces of 17% abv wine in it PLUS Cointreau and simple syrup...so this cocktail is dangerous. It definitely had me feeling happy after just one. You can sub Triple Sec for the Cointreau if you don't have any, but make sure you add that one to your bar inventory--it is richer than Triple Sec and is called for in many cocktails. As for the Fino Sherry (or dry sherry), you don't have to buy anything super expensive if you don't want to, but don't go so low as using sherry designated for cooking. I found the Harltley and Gibson's Fino Sherry for about $20 at a local wine shop.

The Sherry Sangaree

Ingredients

  • 4 oz Dry Sherry
  • 3/4 oz Cointreau
  • 1 oz Simple Syrup
  • Lemon twist for garnish

Instructions

  1. Stir the Sherry, Cointreau, and simple syrup together in an ice-filled mixing glass.
  2. Strain into an ice-filled wine glass (I like using one giant ice cube, as shown in the photos).
  3. Run the lemon peel along the rim of the wine glass, twist it over the glass, then drop it in.

Thirsty for More? Check out these Cocktail Recipes:

The Andalucia

The Chapala

The Gimlet

What is Chianti and Why You Should Always Have Some at Your House

Chianti can be one of your best friends to pair with food. Unfortunately, thanks to cheap bottles wrapped in wicker baskets on restaurant tables, it became synonymous with low quality. But that can be far from the truth! Read on if you care to learn a little more on the wines coming from Chianti.

What is Chianti?

Simply put, Chianti is an area in the central Italian region of Tuscany. It is not a specific type of grape, but a region that has become incredibly famous for its high-acid, food-friendly wines based on the sangiovese grape. Historically it was a wine blended with many different local varieties, but today all wines labeled "Chianti" are at least 75% and up to 100% sangiovese.

As I mentioned above, chianti got a bad reputation in the 20th century with low-quality examples. Those woven-basket bottles we see on tables at Italian restaurants practically ruined the name of Chianti. But thanks to stricter laws that started in the 1980s that prohibited certain grapes, yields, etc. in Chianti, the quality has drastically improved for today's consumer.

BUT, that doesn't mean all Chianti is a safe bet (unfortunately). The area is very large and therefore there are many different styles and qualities produced. But that doesn't mean you should completely ignore Chianti (please see below on "why you should always have a bottle at the house"!). My suggestion is to be adventurous and try some new labels. A bottle between $12-$20 is usually a great value that won't disappoint!

Flavors of Chianti

  • light red to deep ruby in color
  • On the palate: bright red fruit flavors like cherry, raspberry, or plum. Some may have notes of tea, dried leaves, or tobacco
  • Generally very high in acidity, making them an excellent match for foods
  • usually a good supporting tannin structure

Chianti Classico

When you see "Chianti Classico" on a label, you are looking at a wine from the original area dictated as "Chianti", first recorded in 1398. This area doesn't necessarily mean a better wine than regular chianti but is generally understood as the finest region, with prices being a little higher and qualifications a little stricter. This area permits up to 100% sangiovese in the bottle (so no other grapes have to be blended in) and does not allow any white grapes in the blend. From personal consumption, I've noticed most wines from Chianti Classico are generally deeper, darker, and richer than other easy-drinking Chiantis. This is perhaps because any wine from the Chianti Classico region must be aged in oak barrels for at least 10 months.

When you see "Riserva" on the Label

Whether its "Chianti Riserva" or "Chianti Classico Riserva" you see on the label, this little word indicates an aged, and thus generally higher quality, wine in the bottle. Chianti labeled with "riserva" means the wine has been aged at least 2 years in oak and 3 months in the bottle. Additionally, the alcohol must be at least 12.5% for these wines. These wines usually age really well in the bottle and can stand up to bigger dishes like stews and steaks.

When you see "Chianti Superiore" on the Label

Think of Chianti Superiore as a similar designation to Chianti Classico, but without being from the classico region. Unlike Chianti Classico, Chianti Superiore may come from any of Chianti's other subregions but must be aged for at least 6 months in oak barrels and 3 months in the bottle. This essentially just gives the producers not located in the Chianti Classico region a chance to show that their wine too has met aging requirements that generally results in a better wine.

Other Chianti Subregions You Might See on Labels

  • Chianti Classico
  • Chianti Montalbano
  • Chianti Colli Fiorentini
  • Chianti Montespertoli
  • Chianti Rufina
  • Colli Senesi
  • Colline PIasane
  • Colli Aretini

Why You Always Need a Bottle of Chianti at Your House

I hope all this chianti-talk has got you thinking about the next bottle you'd like to try! Which brings me to my last point of asking you to always have a bottle of Chianti at your house. Why would I ever ask that? Because we love Italian food in America, and Chianti is one of THE BEST wines to pair with our favorites. Be it pizza, pasta, ravioli, cheese, chicken, lamb, or anything with tomatoes/tomato sauce, Chianti is going to be an amazing match. As I mentioned above, this wine has got incredible acidity which matches with lots of dishes that call for red wine. So safe to say, next time you have spaghetti night at your house (and no matter how easy it was for you to cook), you will be able to dress it up with a great Chianti wine pairing because, well, you'll have a bottle on hand! Check out this simple Basil Garlic Tomato Sauce Spaghettini recipe I paired with Chianti:

Oaxaca Old Fashioned

This version of the Old Fashioned uses both tequila and mezcal to create a refreshing cocktail perfect for Cinco de Mayo!

Andrew and I FINALLY bought our first bottle of mezcal just last week...and its already almost gone. The motive for buying it, of course, was to create this awesome recipe in collaboration with South of Vanilla's Grain-free tequila lime bars for cinco de mayo, and let me tell you, orange and lime? A weird combination. Not sure about that pairing haha. Regardless, this is a great cocktail, and I had to share it with you. If you're looking for some tasty dessert for cinco (after you make these awesome southwestern sweet potatoes), have yourself some salted tequila lime bars...and my Oaxaca Old Fashioned.

Mezcal is already making waves as the next big thing in the spirits world. Relatively rare in this country, the majority of Mezcals being imported are well-crafted, boutique-y expressions.  Mixologists are having a field day crafting new cocktails from this smoky, unique-tasting version of our commonly-known tequila. And drinkers that want to be drinking something "trendy" that no one knows about yet have hit a gold mine!

What is Mezcal again?

Why is mezcal fairly rare in this country? Well for one, it has always been looked down upon compared to the ever-popular tequila in both Mexico and America. Although historically cheaper, many mezcals today stand up in quality to the finest tequilas, thanks to the recent movement in small-batch mezcals and craft distilleries. My last post highlighted the differences between mezcal and tequila and why the latter is vastly superior in popularity. In a nutshell, tequila has very strict regulations as far as what it is made from and how it is made. Mezcal, on the other hand, can be made from any agave plant. It is the original form of tequila, back in the day when distillers had to heat the agaves over direct fire (giving it that smoky taste). Mezcals often have a worm in the bottle, which yes you're supposed to eat but...I don't think I could...

Most mezcals are made in Oaxaca, and many brands have emerged as boutique expressions of the local culture. Just as tequila has become very exclusive and specialized, most mezcals we see in America are just as unique and of high-quality, which is why the majority you'll see have high price tags attached to them.

The Oaxaca Old Fashioned

Anyway, this cocktail is no joke. Its not hard to make, but you do need some different ingredients I bet you don't have in your bar right now (and if you do, congrats to you!). First weird ingredient--agave nectar. This can be found at any grocery store. Second ingredient--chocolate bitters (or mole bitters). These bitters are awesome and can make a ton of fun different drinks. Find them at your local specialty liquor store, if you are near one. Luckily, they can also be bought online (thank you internet!). Third weird ingredient--mezcal. I'm not going to lie, these aren't widely available either. Up here in Reno, Total Wine had 3 options. My biggest advice is if you have a nice selection, go and buy the $30-$50 mezcal. You won't regret it, and there is a huge difference between those and the selections of "value". Same goes for tequila.

One last thing--mezcal in Mexico is usually drank straight, not in cocktails. If you are a scotch lover, you will love the similar smokiness you get from mezcal. For those of us that don't care for straight spirits or are just adventuring into the world of cocktails, this is a great starting point.


Oaxaca Old Fashioned

Ingredients

  • 1 orange slice
  • ice
  • 1 1/2 oz tequila reposado
  • 1 oz mezcal
  • 3 dashes of aztec chocolate bitters or mole bitters
  • 1 tsp agave nectar

Instructions

  1. Place orange in old fashioned (low ball) glass. Muddle it with a muddler to release aromas/flavors.
  2. Fill glass with ice.
  3. In a separate ice-filled mixing glass, combine remaining ingredidients and stir vigorously until the agave nectar is dissolved. Strain into old fashioned glass.
  4. Garnish with an orange twist and enjoy.

A Lesson on Tequila

Lets talk tequila. My blogging buddy from South of Vanilla just posted this awesome blood orange margarita recipe and admitted she “knows nothing about tequila” which got me thinking—do any of us really know much about tequila? Its one of those spirits we all love to sip in our margaritas on hot days, or our most dreaded shot of choice at the bar, but beyond that, not much thought has gone into this delicious libation.But let me tell you....tequila is freaking awesome.

The fact is, a lot of hard work goes into making tequila. First off, tequila comes from the blue weber agave plant, which looks like a cactus but is actually a succulent, part of the lily family. We had a lot of agaves growing around Las Vegas. Tequila-makers have to wait 8-10 years for this blue agave to ripen (that’s a long time!) then chop off all the spines to reveal the heart, or pina, of the plant. Here’s a few pictures to give you a visual:

Look at how huge those things are! That poor horse! Pinas can actually weigh up to 150 pounds, which is madness. I had no idea it took that long or was that labor-intensive to harvest the fundamental product to make tequila. Anyway, after the pinas are harvested, they are brought to the distillery and cut in half. Then they are cooked in slow-baked ovens for 1-3 days. By baking the pina, it converts the starches of the plant into fermentable sugars, which is what we need to make any sort of liquor. After that, the pina is shredded, fermented in a large tank, and then distilled in either copper, stainless steel stills, or continuous stills.

So what is the difference between mezcal and tequila? Obviously, as I just said, mezcal uses other agaves besides the blue weber variety. Mezcal is also older than tequila in that it was the traditional way of making distilled spirits by roasting the pinas over direct fire which gave them a distinct smokey character. In the 16th century, the best known mezcal was produced in a small town called Tequila (see where this is going?). Perhaps this was so popular, because the weber blue agave grew wild around the town, and the distilleries used it to make their mezcal. All distilleries used the name “tequila” to denote where their tequila came from, so the best of the best soon became affiliated with the name “tequila”.

Then, Don Cenobio Sauza (of Sauza tequila, yes) figured out if he steamed or baked the pinas to make his tequila, they wouldn’t taste smokey anymore. Mexicans went crazy over this new style of tequila, so other distillers followed. Tequila became famous as “the drink of Mexico”, so that is the resulting style we know and drink today!

Categories of Tequila

All tequila is categorized by how it long it has been aged. Just like whiskey and scotch however, the longer it has been aged, the higher its price tag will be. I will admit my tequila collection at home is...pretty pathetic...but that's because good tequila is EXPENSIVE! (blame it on the 150 lb pinas they have to wait 10 years to harvest PLUS that aging time...) My biggest advice? Buy the cheaper silver and gold tequilas for your cocktails, and splurge on a nice anejo if you want to start enjoying the good stuff.

Side note--a few weeks ago I made the terrible mistake of ordering a super sugary margarita that immediately messed with my stomach. My friend ordered me a shot of good tequila in which I sipped on for the next 20 minutes. My stomach immediately settled and I felt better. I had no idea tequila could act as a stomach-settler!

The 5 Categories of Tequila

  • Silver (White) (Blanco)
    • tequila that has not been aged in wooden barrels
    • often the most value-driven, designed for everyday consumption
    • Gold (Young) (Joven)
      • may be aged
      • caramel color, sugar syrup, or oak extract may be added to soften flavor
      • Reposado (Aged Tequila)
        • aged at least 2 months (but up to a year) in oak casks
        • Anejo (Aged Tequila)
          • Aged in oak a minimum of 1 year (and up to 3 years)
          • Extra Anejo (Ultra Aged Tequila)
            • Aged in oak a minimum of 3 years