Wines have been mixed, spiced, heated and used as cocktail bases for centuries. Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller go right back to the Domesday Book to complete their two-part series on wine cocktails
Ernest Hemingway not only loved the grain, he was also enamoured with the grape. ‘Wine is one of the most civilised things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection,’ he once commented. But we think that even perfection can be tweaked just a touch when the mood strikes. Such is the subject of this second episode of our thoughts on mixed drinks made with wine.
What we're drinking
We love The Dark Horse in Bath and are currently enjoying their fortified wine treat Circus. It combines the soft notes of Harveys Signature 12yo Sherry with ice cider, and homemade blackberry and rosemary cordial. Topped with Fever-Tree Spiced Orange Ginger Ale, it brings complexity and fruit together with a lift of effervescence.
This time we head back to the Domesday Book, published in 1086, which recorded that a thriving viticulture was found in Somerset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, and along the southeast coast.
While the Little Ice Age (1290-1850) coupled with the dissolution of the monasteries (1536) brought an end to domestic winemaking, it did make the British experts at importing, bottling, and cellaring fine wines from the continent. It also contributed to the creation of a host of mixed drinks.
Hypocras wine – a fine claret enhanced with a combination of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, mace, nutmeg and rosemary, kissed with a touch of honey and left to infuse for a day – was lauded as an excellent digestive aid. Lords and ladies alike savoured the robust blend of spices and sweetness, accompanied by a few wafers. Mead and beer were the drinks of the average people, while wine was the sip of the aristocracy and clergy. As you can imagine, the variations and customisations were endless.
As the economy changed from rural to urban during the 18th century, wine lost some of its exclusivity, with tradespeople and the middle class sharing many a social moment over a mug of mulled wine at the tavern. Heated slowly and sweetened with sugar, the aromas tantalised those present, beckoning them to warm up and savour the conviviality of the moment well into Edwardian times and beyond.
Pop in some berries, fresh or frozen, add a shot of brandy and a half litre of sparkling water, and you are ready to party. We’ve tried versions chock-a-block with tropical fruits such as pineapple and star fruit, but our latest vinous passion is for a lively rosé. A Spanish rosé can be converted into a Sangria with apple slices, apple juice and sherry.Two world wars could not dishearten the wine drinkers of the world.
Blanc cassis was a familiar French apéritif before Burgundy wine stocks were depleted during the Nazi occupation. The beverage got its more common name ‘Kir’ after the second world war, when producers in Dijon blended two local products – rich, fruity crème de cassis and lightly acid Aligoté wine – together, naming the result after the city’s mayor Felix Kir.
But why stop with white wine and crème de cassis? Switch white wine with champagne to make a Kir Royal. Switch white for a red Merlot or another deep red to make a Cardinal, aka a Communard. Switch crème de cassis for the blackberry richness of crème de mûre or the raspberry notes of Chambord to make a Kir Impérial. Keep going.
As warmer days are around the corner, we should remind you about that classic Spanish contribution to this category of mixed drink: Sangria. Just like Kir, Sangria can be made in a wide variety of ways.
A bottle of red wine such as classic Rioja can be loaded with slices of any kind of citrus – lemon, lime, orange, tangerine, pomelo, you name it.
Has it become clear yet that mixed drinks made with wine as the foundation have tremendous creative potential? There is no set pattern or ingredient list for making any of these lovely, low-alcohol libations. The only limit is your own imagination.
Glass: Irish coffee
1 bottle Pinot Noir or
Glass: Cider or rocks
Photography by Stephen Lenthall
Drinks styling by Russell Burgess