AUSTIN, Texas — The shimmering concoction in the martini glass had a dreamy, pale green color. But what exactly was it? Perhaps the cucumber rose perched on the rim offered a clue. Was it a martini made with Hendrick’s Gin, which is made with cucumber and rose petals?
No, the first taste was too light to be gin or any other hard liquor, with the alcohol almost as elusive as the twinkle of light in the drink itself.
The Ecco Modo, as it was called, proved to be one of a series of winetails, or wine-based mixed drinks, that New York mixologist Alex Ott is helping popularize. He poured several during a sunset cruise around Town Lake as part of the recent Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival.
In the case of the Ecco Modo, the color came from muddled cucumber, the kick from pinot grigio and the sparkle from both spring water and an edible glitter called Luster Dust.
Winetails are growing in popularity, as bartenders and cocktail makers are using them in a number of lively styles. The makers of inexpensive wines, such as Italy’s Ecco Domani, which hired Ott as a consultant, and Australia’s Yellow
Tail, are creating growing archives of recipes with winetails that cater to every taste.
Ott used pinot grigio with cucumber juice in one drink, watermelon juice in another. He added merlot to a third drink; it started out like a caipirinha in that it used muddled lime, but it ended up resembling sangria, perhaps the most renowned winetail of all.
Are there any rules to follow when making a winetail?
Watch the citrus juice, Ott said. Wine can be highly acidic, and the acid from a lemon or, more especially, a lime could make the wine bitter as a result. So, start small at first and don’t let the wine and lime juice sit together too long before serving.
"With the exception of citrus, the rules are pretty much the same," he said.
Most other winetails, such as his watermelon-based Ecco Freddo, can be made hours in advance, in case you are making enough for a party later.
If you’re wondering where to start, Ott suggested trying your favorite cocktail recipes and making a few substitutions. That’s what he did with the Ecco Modo, which is a variation on a drink Ott has made over the years. The original uses vanilla-flavored vodka; the new version makes up for that by adding a dash of vanilla to the wine mix.
Why would you make a winetail instead of a cocktail? One reason is because wine has far less alcohol, so you’re less likely to get drunk on them as you would on drinks made with vodka, gin or rum, Ott said. Mixing the wine with fruit juice further cuts the alcohol.
Be careful: Some winetails also call for hard liquor, so know what you’re drinking before diving in.
Ott knows his way around a bar. He won the title of master mixologist in
America three years in a row, and he can layer flavors in a drink the same way chefs build their food.
His drinks were a hit with many on the boat. One woman compared the Ecco Froddo to an adult agua fresca because it was like watermelon with a kick.
"I see winetails as the next evolution in mixed drinks," Ott has said, "with wine-lovers and cocktail fanatics alike embracing them."
c.2008 San Antonio Express-News