Cocktails that'll transport you to Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday in English (also known as Shrove Tuesday) refers to not just the day before Ash Wednesday, but all of the events of the Carnival celebrations beginning on or after the Christian feasts of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day) and culminating on the day before Lent begins. This year, Mardi Gras is Tuesday, February 28. In honor of the occasion we’re sharing a few cocktails native to New Orleans, the undisputed capital of Mardi Gras celebrations in the US. Kill two birds with one stone and mix a few tonight at your Oscars party.

Hurricane 

This classic New Orleans cocktail was first created at the legendary Pat O’Brien’s in the French Quarter. The bar began as a speakeasy during Prohibition. The drink is named for its signature curved glass which resembles a Hurricane lamp, though the tempestuous experience after a few of these unassuming cocktails kick in may have made the name stick. 

2 ounces light rum
2 ounces dark rum
2 ounces passion fruit juice
1 ounce orange juice
½ ounce fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon simple syrup
1 tablespoon grenadine
Garnish: orange slice and cherry

Shake ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a tall hurricane glass filled with ice. Garnish with a cherry and an orange slice.

Vieux Carre

Vieux Carre (Old Square) is the French term for what is now known as the French Quarter, New Orleans’s beloved and best-known district.  Created during the 1930s at the Hotel Monteleon’s Carousel Bar  - a rotating bar of legendary libations – this smooth, deceptively strong cocktail is a New Orleans classic.  

3/4 ounce rye whiskey
3/4 ounce Cognac
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1 bar spoon Bénédictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Cherries (for garnish) 

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir well, strain into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass and garnish.

Sazerac

Created in the late 1800s, many argue that the Sazerac is the first ever cocktail. Like most popular drugs, it was thought at the time to have medicinal purposes. Both absinthe and Peychaud’s Bitters were considered health elixirs; mixing them with whisky and sugar was meant to make them more palatable. Just a spoonful of sugar – oh, and also lots of booze – makes the medicine go down! 

Today, there is some debate about how to make the correct Sazerac. Purists will favor the recipe from the PDT (Please Don’t Tell) cocktail book but for those of you who eschew dogma feel free to experiment with a second version of the cocktail from the Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans made with a heavier portion of Absinthe and served with (gasp!) an ice cube. If you’re feeling creative and/or anti-establishment you can even experiment with your own version using the essential ingredients (absinthe, sugar, bitters, rye whiskey, and a lemon peel).

The traditional version, according to the PDT cocktail book is as follows:

2 ounces rye whiskey
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2 dashes angostura bitters
1 demerara sugar cube
Absinthe (to rinse glass)
Lemon peel

Rinse a rocks glass with absinthe and set aside. Muddle the sugar and the bitters. Add whiskey and ice. Stir and strain into absinthe-rinsed glass. Twist lemon peel over the top and discard. 

The Sazerac Coffee House twist on the classic:

2 ounces Rye Whiskey
1/2 ounces Gum Syrup* 
1/4 ounces absinthe
5 drops Peychaud's Bitters
Lemon Peel to Garnish

Stir ingredients and strain into a chilled lowball glass with large cube. 

Twist a lemon peel on top, and float on the surface of the drink.

* To make gum syrup, combine equal parts Gum Arabic. Heat and stir until gum Arabic is dissolved. Then, make rich demerara sugar simple syrup with 2 parts demerara sugar to one part water. Heat until dissolved. Mix 1 part Gum Arabic simple syrup with 2 parts rich simple syrup. Transfer to glass bottle and keep in refrigerator. 

Cocktail a la Louisiane

The Cocktail a la Louisiane has been around since the late 1800s. Described as a mix between the iconic Sazerac and the Vieux Carre, the ingredients of this herbaceous drink pay homage to the city’s history; Rye whiskey is American, Sweet Vermouth is Italian, Benedictine and Absinthe both hail from France, and the distinctive medicinal blend of herbs known as Peychaud’s Bitters is a nod to Caribbean heritage. Together they are a delicious balance of bitter, sweet, earthy, and botanical.

2 oz. rye whiskey
1⁄2 ounce sweet vermouth
1⁄4 ounce Benedictine
3 dashes Peychaud's bitters
2 dashes absinthe
Maraschino cherry, to garnish

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine rye, vermouth, Benedictine, bitters, and absinthe. Stir and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Baudin

This cocktail is reminiscent of the Mardi Gras experience: A little sweet, a little spicy, and fueled by alcohol. T. Cole Newton of the 12 Mile Limit in New Orleans created this refreshing Southern cocktail.  Tabasco and lemon juice give it a spicy kick and satisfying acidity. 

1 ½ ounce bourbon
3⁄4 ounce honey syrup (instructions below)
1⁄2 ounce lemon juice
1 dash Tabasco

Shake ingredients, pour into rocks glass, and add ice. Garnish with a lemon peel.
For honey syrup: combine 2 parts local honey dissolved in 1 part steaming hot water. For a less sweet version you can make the syrup using a 1 to 1 ratio. 

Café Brulot Diabolique

Though not suited for drinking in the streets, the Café Brulot Diabolique has all the performative flare of Mardi Gras and a New Orleans pedigree. The drink was first served at Antoine’s in the French Quarter and became popular during prohibition as an effective guise for serving alcohol. The name for this literally flaming cocktail translates to “devilishly burned coffee.” The genius combination of coffee and Brandy will keep you up for a night of shenanigans. 

2 stick cinnamon
8 whole cloves
Peel of 1 lemon
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
3 ounces brandy
3 cups strong black coffee

Put the cinnamon, cloves, lemon peel, sugar, and brandy in a fireproof bowl. Heat on open flame. When the brandy is hot (not boiling) ignite the mixture with match. Stir with a ladle and pour the liquid around the bowl for about 2 minutes. Pour the hot coffee into the flaming brandy. To serve, ladle into demitasse cups.

Red Rooster

This slushy punch is about as easy as mixology gets. It is often served in the south as a holiday punch but it’s also a popular Mardi Gras drink. This recipe yields two quarts so don’t forget to invite some friends to share it with. 

1 ½ quarts Cranberry Juice
1 can (6 ounces) orange juice concentrate (defrosted)
2 cups vodka

Combine ingredients in plastic container. Freeze for a few hours.  The mixture will not freeze entirely but should achieve a slushy consistency. Scoop and serve!

 

Gretchen Skedsvold
Give me some skin.

Many of us are hoping for a little skin contact on Valentine’s Day. The question is: should your wine get some too? 

Skin contact is the distinguishing winemaking characteristic between the vast majority of red and white wines. White wines are made with grape juice, avoiding skin contact. Red wines are made using must (a mixture of grape juice with skins, stems and fruit), which ferments in a vat until drained. Their red color comes from pigments in the skin called anthocyanins. Not only do grape skins impart color, they also impart flavor, tannin structure, and phenolics. Without the skins, red grapes make white wines! (Like this one we’re pouring Thursday.) 

The amount of skin contact varies greatly in reds. The vintner decides when to drain off the pomace (the solid components in must). They have the touch, if you will. Unsurprisingly, there are techniques designed to optimize desirable characteristics found in skin. Extended maceration, for example, is a technique in which skins and seeds are left in contact with a wine for an extended period of time, typically between 3-100 days. This process extracts flavor and tannins and makes wines age worthy. Like steeping a tea, the flavor intensifies with time. This is where the term “extracted” comes from. 

Rosé lives in the middle ground between red and white. There are three different methods for producing rosé. The first is the maceration method in which grapes are pressed and sit on their skins for 2-24 hours (like a one night stand). The saignee (French for bled) method is when juice is drained during the first few hours of a red wine’s production. This method produces a lovely pink wine and with some of the more intense flavors of a red wine. In rare cases, vintners blend a small amount of red wine with white wine to make a rosé; it generally turns out much better than similar experiments you may have tried at home. 

White grapes fermented with skins are known as orange wines (this has nothing to do with the citrus fruit and everything to do with the color). This technique has experienced a renaissance in recent years, particularly among low intervention winemakers. Skins are typically left in anywhere between 4 days up to a full year. Orange wines are more robust than white wines and have tannins like a red wine. They tend to be tart and dry. 

Whether your wine has received no skin contact or has undergone extended maceration has little bearing on the stated goal of skin contact on the day in question. Any bottle is certain to help. If you need some suggestions on a wine for your mission check out our earlier post on Valentine’s Day wines. You got this. 
 

Gretchen Skedsvold
Wines for the Anti-Valentine

Valentine’s Day can be a polarizing occasion. Many individuals, betrothed and unattached alike, harbor a disdain for what they see as an overly commercialized, sappy “holiday.” There is even an alternative name for Valentine’s Day: Singles Awareness Day (SAD). But cynicism can be a worthy cause for drinking and in that spirit, we have hand-picked a selection of wines that are enjoyable enough to substitute romance and fancy enough to make you feel indulgent (many are great accompaniments to your favorite takeout foods). Whatever your feelings about the impending holiday, there is something on this list for you.

If you’re feeling bereft and need to slam a BBQ pork sandwich and lament life try Forlorn Hope Mataro. Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope loves underdogs and the lost causes. He celebrates the struggle. His quixotic quest to explore obscure varietals and unknown appellations produces unique, esoteric wines. Drinking any one of them would be a great celebration of the impossible quest for love. The Mataro (Spanish for Mourvèdre) is the perfect accompaniment to that sopressata sub or that dry rub BBQ that you’re enjoying by yourself over the kitchen sink. It smells and tastes of raspberry jam without being sweet. It has a perfumed nose of dried wildflowers and medium plus body, tannins, and acidity.  The palate tastes of Indian spices and cola with deep umami flavors of dry aged beef and soy. 

If you’re feeling hopeful and want something special on hand try Clos Saron Out of the Blue. If the John Lennon song of the same title is at all based in reality you too can be struck by romance “out of the blue.” If it doesn’t happen in time for this Valentine’s Day, this is an age-worthy wine that would be well worth saving for the moment true love strikes, if you can stand waiting to drink it. Clos Saron is located in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Winemaker Gideon Beinstock farms grapes organically, uses ambient yeasts, does not fine or filter, and adds minimal sulfur at bottling. He prefers the term “minimalist” to “natural,” some knowledge you can impress your future boo with. The spiced floral nose leads to a wine with bright red fruit, structure and acidity. This is the last vintage of this Cinsault blend; be sure to savor every last drop. 

If you’re feeling jealous and need to indulge, try Adega Familiar Eladio Piñeiro Envidiacochina Tête de Cuvee Albariño. This Albarino from Rias Baixas (southwestern coast of Galacia in Spain) is named for “the filthy worm of envy.” This lively wine is bright and citrusy, brimming with salinity. It has medium body, high acidity, and coats your mouth with a chalky minerality. It would be great with a fish sandwich or some supermarket sushi. It’s everyone else who should be jealous that they aren’t drinking this wine with you. 
 
If you need a good cry try Pheasant’s Tears Saperavi. The name “Pheasant’s Tears” refers to Georgian folklore in which a wine is so good that it makes a pheasant cry. Whether you spend Valentine’s Day crying over the beauty of this wine, the state of politics, or another year of being single, it is sure to be a unique gustatory experience. Pheasant’s Tears grapes are farmed organically and the wines are all fermented using the traditional Georgian qvevri, a clay amphora lined with beeswax and placed in the ground. All wines are made using indigenous yeasts and include the stems in the fermentation process. The Saperavi varietal is so dark that it is called “black” (like your heart) in Georgian. This wine is bold enough to fortify you in the wake of heartache. It is dry and earthy with notes of black currants and almonds. Firm tannins give the wine an elegant structure and a grippy finish. 

If love is literally out of sight try Causse Marines Les Greilles. Les Greilles Gaillac is a blend of Mauzac, Muscadelle, and Loin-de-l’Oeil, all traditional varietals from Gaillac in Southwestern France. Virginie Maignien and Patrice Lescarret of Causse Marines are committed to exploring the unique heritage varietals of Gaillac in Southwest France. They farm using organic practices and no additives in the cellar. Loin-de-l’Oeil (also referred to as Len de L’El) means “far from the eye,” just like love for some on Valentine’s Day. It produces fuller bodied, fruity, low acid whites which makes this a great pairing for spicy fare such as Thai, Malaysian, or Indian food, all great options for a night of self-pity. The Mauzac and Muscadelle give the wine buoyancy and a subtle acidity. There are aromas of ripe apples and pears on the nose, which leads into a rich and smooth white with touches of melon, apple, minerality, and creaminess and a slightly tart finish. 

If you’re feeling agitated, by unrequited love or by all of the lemmings buying Russell Stover chocolates, try Zelige-Caravant Un Poco Agitato. This wine is made from Chasan, the love child of Chardonnay and Listan born at the University of Montpellier in 1958. This white grape has been fermented on its skins like a red wine, thereby making it an orange wine (no oranges were harmed in the making of this wine). The winemaking couple (don’t be jealous) is located in the Languedoc and their vineyards are certified organic and biodynamic. 

Gretchen Skedsvold