The wine cooler has a bit of an identity problem. Is it a wine spritzer? A wine cocktail? Sangria? And what about that wild child moment in the '80s when it was the hottest thing on the party scene?
Luckily, this cocktail conundrum is solved easily. As Gertrude Stein might put it, wine cooler is wine spritzer is wine cocktail is sangria. And the versions being whipped up today have nothing in common with the mass-produced products of 30 years ago.
"Mixology has been raised to this new chef-like height and wine, in a way, is the bartender's hottest ingredient right now," says Mike Dawson, senior editor at Wine Enthusiast. "Cutting-edge bartenders are taking these wine-based drinks to new heights and creating these New Age coolers, along with countless variations of the sangria and classic wine cocktails like the New York Sour."
Summer is the perfect time for wine coolers, since it's the one time of year even the most dedicated vinophile toys with dropping a fistful of ice in a glass.
What should you use when making your own wine coolers? Well, don't reach for the bottom shelf wine that just doesn't taste good, advises Cappy Sorentino, bar director of Spoonbar restaurant at the H2 Hotel in the wine country town of Healdsburg, Calif. On the other hand, don't go crazy and uncork an expensive bottle of wine, either.
"It doesn't have to be the best stuff because you're basically using it as a base," he says.
Look for a wine that has a fair amount of acidity to it, i.e. "yes" to sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio, "no" to chardonnay that's spent a lot of time in oak barrels. For red wines, Spanish wines are, not surprisingly, a good choice since sangria is a Spanish invention. Tempranillo makes a good choice.
Joe Campanale, beverage director of four New York City neighborhood restaurants, encourages cocktail enthusiasts to get creative by mixing their favorite single-serving cocktail in a pitcher for a group dinner or celebration. Keep the ingredients light, he advises, as in his Blame it on the Aperol cocktail served at the dell'anima restaurant, which combines Aperol, Blue Coat gin and lemon juice in a pitcher with plenty of ice. Give it a stir, pour into flute glasses and top off with sparkling wine for a bright effervescence.
Here are a few more suggestions from Alison Ladman on ways to make your wine cooler-spritzer-sangria-cocktail pitcher perfect.
Yield: 1 serving
Ice 4 ounces sauvignon blanc wine 1 ounce silver or blanco tequila Juice of 1 lime 3 ounces grapefruit soda
Combine all ingredients in a tall, ice-filled glass. Stir gently, then serve immediately.