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From Cellar to Shaker

April 1, 2009 By: Kelly Magyarics Night Club and Bar Magazine

Vintage Appeal
Wine-based drinks have the capacity to appeal to a wide range of guests. Heugel finds that since wine is an ingredient with which everyone is familiar — unlike some of the newer or exotic spirits on the market right now — these cocktails sell well. Dawson, whose home experimentation led to the wine-based tipples he has on his menu (“I was making dinner for my wife and wanted something fun to drink while I cooked,” he confesses), markets them to patrons who enjoy trying new things.


“You need to feel people out,” he Dawson advises. “Some only like safety when it comes to their cocktails. It also depends on the bartender’s enthusiasm to sell.” At Belly Timber, wine cocktails account for 15 to 35 percent of drink sales from week to week.

Operators in close proximity to wine country, where the grape tends to be integrated into daily life, may find wine-based cocktails an easy sell. Ten 01 is just 45 minutes from the Willamette Valley, home to arguably some of the world’s best Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.
“Thinking locally in Oregon means thinking wine,” notes Swenson, who likes using local products, such as a Pinot Gris-based syrup, which accentuates gin’s floral notes while adding flavors of fresh peach or pear.

The Storm Watch cocktail (right) and the Easter Egg Hunt (left), two balanced wine cocktails served at Belly Timber in Portland, Ore.

Though traditionally people enjoy a cocktail before the meal and sip wine during it, hard-and-fast food and drink pairing rules are outdated, and mixologists all over the country have been collaborating with chefs to create cocktail-themed pairing dinners. How exactly does the wine cocktail fit into a meal? Heugel recommends employing the same guidelines used for matching food and wine: white wine cocktails with lighter foods and bolder red wine drinks with stronger dishes.

Dawson actually makes specific food and cocktail pairing suggestions for his menu. The well-flavored and plantain-garnished Storm Watch partners perfectly with two dishes at Belly Timber: Fried Plantains with Habañero and Pineapple Salsa, and Jamaican Jerk Chicken Wings. He recommends trying the herby, citrus-tinged, gin- and Verdejo-based Easter Egg Hunt with a fresh Cucumber and Fennel Bulb Salad.

The wine cocktail seems poised to continue gaining momentum. Meehan believes, “With very few wine-based cocktail recipes out there to work with, this category is ripe for the picking.” Operators seeking differentiation may consider popping more corks behind the bar.

Although varying philosophies and matters of personal taste exist, only one definitive guideline exists. As Dawson advises, “Only corked wines don’t work.” NCB

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