Refreshing Wine Cocktails for Summer Sipping

cucumber-mint-wine-cocktailWhile attending a North Carolina Symphony Summerfest concert recently on an unusually pleasant June evening under the stars at Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, I was reminded of how occasions such as these—basking in the laid-back easiness of the season with dear friends and good music—are perfect for a light, refreshing wine cocktail.

In searching the Web to find some recipes to share with you, I came across these concoctions that combine two my most favorite things: wine and herbs. I’m super excited to try them all, and I hope they whet your palate, too. Here’s to many more carefree summer evenings!

Gewürztraminer Agave Ginger Ale (From

Perfect wine cocktails balance sweet, spice, sour and savory. In this cocktail, the spiciness of the ginger is balanced with sweet (agave) and sour (wine). Cava adds spritz without reducing alcohol content. Tabasco adds just the right amount of savory to the mix.


• 3 oz Gewürztraminer (such as $7 Chateau St. Michelle)
• 3 oz Cava (such as $7 Cristalino Brut)
• teaspoon of muddled ginger
• 3/4 oz agave syrup
• Optional: 1-2 dashes of Tabasco

How To:

Put sliced ginger and agave in a cocktail glass and muddle with a wooden spoon until ginger pieces are fragrant. Add Gewürztraminer. Stir. Strain into a sugar-rimmed cocktail glass with ice. Top with sparkling wine.

Cucumber Mint Fume Blanc Fizz (From

If you’re not into super-sweet, this potent potable sounds like a yummy alternative. Cucumber wine cocktails are refreshing and savory. Mint and lime add sour to balance the drink. This drink is not for everyone because it’s not sweet. However, if you’re reading this and your mouth is already watering because you’re sick and tired of overly sweet summer drinks, then read on!


• 3 oz Fume Blanc / Sauvignon Blanc (such as $6 Barnard Griffin)
• 3 oz Cava (such as $7 Cristalino Brut)
• 1 oz cucumber water
• 1/2 oz lime juice
• 2 teaspoons sugar
• pinch coarsely chopped mint

How To:

Make cucumber water by grating, blending and straining a cucumber. Add cucumber water, fume blanc, lime juice, sugar and mint to a cocktail shaker. Shake with ice. Strain into a serving glass and top with 3 ounces sparkling wine.

Strawberry Basil Moscato Lemonade (From

In this summer stunner, basil adds more savory.


• 6 oz Moscato (such as Wine Cube Moscato, from Target)
• 4 Strawberries
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 1 sprig basil
• 1 ounce lemon juice

How To:

Blend all ingredients, except wine, together. Strain into tall glass with ice. Pour over moscato. Add bendy straw.

Lemongrass & Blood Orange Wine Spritzer (From
Serves 4.


Lemongrass Syrup
2 stalks lemongrass (plus extra for garnish, if desired)
2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar

ice cubes
2 cups Lemongrass Syrup
1/2 cup blood orange juice
white wine (Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio work well)
seltzer water

How To:

To make the lemongrass syrup: Trim the ends off the lemongrass and chop into 2-inch pieces. Using a morter and pestle or the back of a knife, crush the lemongrass stalks to help release the juice. Combine lemongrass, water and sugar in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Let it cool in the refrigerator. Strain.

Fill glasses with ice cubes. Add 1/2 cup lemongrass syrup and 1/8 cup blood orange juice to each glass. Fill remainder of glass with white wine and a splash of seltzer water. Garnish with a lemongrass stalk and serve.

Turn the hip wine into a cocktail

moscato-cocktailThis post, written by Amber Nimocks, appeared in the July 21, 2013 edition of The News & Observer.  I’m looking forward to trying her Moscato cocktail. Cheers!

Figuring out how to embrace pop culture becomes tricky after you reach a certain age. Once someone starts calling you Mommy, it’s hard to pull off fashions and trends championed by icons closer to their age than your own.

Culture creep is pervasive, however. Those day-glow yellow shoes start to look cool when every runner pounding a downtown Raleigh sidewalk is wearing them. Read “OMG” and “IMHO” on your Facebook feed and before you know it you’ll be slipping “WTH?” into your texts. And don’t even get me started on that Lumineers song (love it!). So while I remain vigilantly opposed to and perplexed by the staying power of such phenomena as Go-Gurt, Uggs and Guy Fieri, I have decided resistance to some trends is futile. Among those is the insatiable American thirst for Moscato.

I know I’m a couple of years behind the curve here. If you’ve read anything about this trend — or got on the Moscato train when it first rolled out of the station — you know culture watchers credit hip-hop star Drake for blowing it up when he rapped about it in 2009.

Pretty soon it was everywhere. U.S. Moscato sales doubled in 2010 and have been going up since. California vineyards began planting muscat grapes like mad. Just about every major wine label put a version on the shelf. And last February, Wine Spectator deemed Moscato the third most popular white wine in America. Millennials love it.

But it’s the near-apoplectic response of the fine wine establishment to the Moscato craze that makes it truly fun to watch. The standard refrain of respected wine bloggers: “Once these kids grow up and get tired of this sweet stuff, they’ll see the error of their ways and start drinking real wine.” Or “It’s a gateway wine.” Just Google “Moscato” and “gateway” and see if you don’t get 58,000 hits.

At the top of the results you’ll find a recent NPR piece that focused on the connection between Moscato, pop culture and race. While not everyone agrees with its conclusions, the piece raises the valid point that maybe sweet wines like Moscato can no longer be dismissed as merely entrees to a deeper, more fully realized wine life, but are actually what people want to drink at any age, at any sophistication level.

If you consider the Moscato craze alongside every other fast-paced societal change of the past five to 10 years, it’s completely possible that it’s not a craze at all, but that sweet is the new normal. Maybe this blossoming generation will entirely reject the taste standards set by the baby boomers and decide that what they like is good.

Sure, I agree with the wine establishment that most of the Moscato on the shelves is hastily produced stuff full of residual sugar that doesn’t measure up to the well-made Moscato d’Asti from Italy’s Piedmont. But what fun is it to sit on the sidelines staring sourly through an unoaked chardonnay while everyone else at the lawn party is sipping sweet and fizzy?

As I said up top, though, pulling off the latest fashion trend isn’t always easy. Drinking from a bottle covered in shiny polka dots and called “Sequin” feels a little too much like trying to shop at Forever 21 — I know I’m too old for it. A Moscato cocktail would be a better fit, so I created one.

You could serve it in a wine glass, but a rocks glass or a tumbler lends it some heft. If you use Campari, a bitter orange Italian liqueur, you get a bit of bright red color, too, which helps everyone look more like a grownup.



Juice of 1 lime

Juice of 1/2 an orange

Moscato Dellatori or a solid Moscato d’Asti

Angostura bitters or Campari

FILL a rocks glass with ice. Add lime and orange juice. Fill almost to the top with Moscato. Add a healthy dash of bitters or a splash of Campari. Give it a swirl. Sip with authority.

Yield: 1 cocktail

Become your own mixologist

cocktail_shaker_2by Shelby Sheelan-Bernard – McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Home bars are back in style in a big way. Tapping into the nostalgia of the dry martini era, they’re all about embracing the ritual and resurgence of the classic cocktail.

“You remember that generation — the man would have his Beefeater martini and the wife’s got her Tom Collins,” said Tony Abou-Ganim, author of the Modern Mixologist book and “Modern Mixology: Making Great Cocktails at Home” DVD. “You can offer guests wine and beer, and that’s great. But offer them a classic cocktail? Now that’s an experience.”

Check out these tips to get you started:

Liquor: “You could spend $100, $500, $3,000 or more,” Abou-Ganim said, suggesting you start with the basics and go from there: vodka, tequila and a light-bodied rum.

Vodka, he said, is a must. “It’s the No. 1 consumed spirit, and most people like it.” As you add to your collection, he suggests extending to a citrus-flavored vodka.

Tequila is another good bet. Abou-Ganim suggests 100 percent agave silver, which is great for that summertime favorite: margaritas.

There’s a seemingly endless variety of rums on the market, but Jordan Catapano, author of This Girl Walks Into a Bar book and website, suggests a white rum. “It’s really popular and can be paired with simple ingredients,” she said.

If you want to expand further, Abou-Ganim recommends picking up both a masculine gin (like a Tanqueray) and a feminine one (such as Bombay Sapphire).

[Read more…]

Cocktail gardens raise the bar

Mojito cocktaiShake things up in the backyard this summer: Cocktail gardening puts a new twist on edible landscaping.

Fresh herbs and fruit have long been the key ingredients in some of summer’s most refreshing libations, and when they’re within easy reach of the backyard bartender, every cocktail becomes a flourishing signature drink.

Making a mojito with homegrown mint is only part of the picture, though. A successful cocktail garden should be a comfortable and inviting place to be.

“You can’t just translate the indoors to outdoors,” said J’Nell Bryson, a landscape architect in Charlotte. “An outdoor room needs more space to be in scale with nature.” Postage-stamp patios in big backyards don’t look right, she said, but if a small space is all you have, there are lots of ways to make it work as a cocktail garden. “Even if you live in a condo and just have a tiny patio, you can do a vertical garden, or use pots.”

Amy Stewart, author of “The Drunken Botanist,” turned the challenging side yard of her Northern California home into a lush and colorful cocktail garden worthy of her book, which delves deep into the horticulture and lore of hops, rye, barley, grapes and dozens of other plants used to make and garnish the world’s greatest drinks.