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Waiter, There's Wine in My Cocktail

by Jeff Harding with Emily Bell
Shannon Sturgis
July 2012

Making cocktails with wine might be sacrilege to some vino purists, and when we heard of the half-cola-half-wine Kalimotxo, or Cocovino, we might have agreed. Not for everyone, it's actually not half bad, sort of a lazy man's sangria. At Café Sabarsky we came across the Weißer Spritzer, a mix of Grüner Veltliner and sparkling water, and we thought, hmm, "light, refreshing, why not?" Spritzers are nothing new, but there's a reason they never really go out of style: easy to make, half the alcohol, easy to love. If you want to go one further, try Rioja and sparkling water, like they do in Spain.

But then we found Upholstery Store wine bar, where Mixologist Matt Leatherman and Sommelier Leo Schneemann team up for wine cocktail nirvana. The wine bar was formerly a storage space for Chef Kurt Guttenbrunner's Wallsé. It was a no-brainer to turn the intimate space into a wine bar, which now serves Wallsé clientele before and after dinner and has developed a regular neighborhood following. Leatherman's wine and mixology knowledge are equally strong, so when guests at Upholstery Store started asking for cocktails, rather than get a liquor license, it made more sense to build the cocktail program with wine.

As luck would have it, Austrian wines make excellent mixers: bright fruit, crisp acidity, and a generally refreshing palate, with bold flavors that are not covered up, but enhanced by the addition of other fruits, bitters, or herbs. "A lot of fruits we have to adjust seasonally," says Leatherman. Fortunately they can rely on the Wallsé kitchen: "The chef goes to the Union Square Greenmarket; everything's market-driven." Leatherman isn't just using excess or decent table wines, either. "Everything we use in cocktails we serve by the glass," he says. The menu changes seasonally, too, and for his summer menu, Leatherman serves crisp, refreshing cocktails, running the gamut of sparkling, red, and white wine. (And we'll be sure to visit this winter to taste their classic Glühwein, or mulled wine.)

Scarlet: White Wine and Citrus with Muddled Cucumber and Mint

Scarlet: White Wine and Citrus with Muddled Cucumber and Mint

Bombay Damask

The sparkling wine (Sekt Gustav Klimt) used in this cocktail has its own story. As a proprietary blend made for the KG-NY group by Sektkellerei Szigeti in Austria, it's a 50/50 blend of Austrian and Hungarian Chardonnay grapes, to honor the history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Add that to a little art history: this year is the 150th birthday celebration of Austrian Artist Gustav Klimt, who is being recognized all year at the Neue Galerie. To celebrate that occasion, and the release of Guttenbrunner's cookbook, Neue Cuisine, the KG-NY group got the rights to use the famous Klimt portrait, "Adele Bloch Bauer I," on the wine's label.

In the Bombay Damask, Leatherman lends some of the lush body of passion fruit purée to the Sekt Gustav Klimt. The tart passion fruit complements the wine's sparkle—mellowed a bit by elderflower syrup—but neither covers up the fruit or minerality of the Sekt, which results in a tangy, bright refresher, perfect for summer.

Scarlet

You'd think something called the Scarlet would be a red wine cocktail. But it actually starts with a bright 2009 Polz Austrian Sauvignon Blanc. "White wines work the best in wine cocktails," says Leatherman. "Whites bring more fresh acidity," Schneemann adds.

The Scarlet is an apt example. Leatherman actually adds a bit of lemon juice to amp up the single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc's natural acid, balanced with the cooling notes of muddled mint and cucumber. Summer aromas leap at you before you even taste this cocktail, and the palate follow-up is crisp and refreshing. Slight herbal notes and minerality in the wine combine for a balanced, flavorful summer cooler.

Polyester

Schneemann calls this drink a "red wine sour," and that's accurate, but not the whole story. Leatherman goes for Buchegger's 2009 Blauer Zweigelt, a surprisingly full-bodied red on its own, but when mixed with elderberry syrup, lime juice, and whiskey bitters, it takes on a more lusty, sweet/tart complexity that we loved. Big blackberry fruit notes are the mainstay, but a bright acidity, depth from the elderberry syrup, and whiskey bitters add layers of flavor.

Needless to say, our "sampling" at the Upholstery Store left three empty glasses behind. (Another benefit of wine cocktails? Lower alcohol than your average drink.) "You could drink more of them for sure," says Leatherman. In this heat, we think we will.