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February 6, 2011

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Relax and have a wine cocktail

AT events and in the media, I am often fond of saying that many wine professionals tend to take themselves and the subject of wines too seriously. Instead of making wine appreciation fun and easy they build up a culture of snobbery and exclusivity. This can really be a turn off to consumers, especially in a new market like China. Like most wine lovers, when I drink the really good stuff, I never add anything to dilute the purity of its excellence and show respect to the wine by serving it at the right temperature and in a proper crystal glass. In other words, there are times I'm somewhat serious. But do we always need to be so serious? Not at all. Sometimes it's enjoyable to let our hair down and have some fun with wine. One way to have fun is by enjoying wine cocktails. Here are three wine cocktails that are easy to make, delightfully delicious to drink and come with interesting stories.Bellini Cocktail

Giuseppe Cipriani, the owner of Harry's Bar in Venice, created the Bellini cocktail about a decade after the bar opened in 1931. The Bellini which is made of peach juice and Prosecco sparkling wine quickly became the most popular cocktail in Venice. Nowadays you can't really say you've visited Venice unless you drink a few Bellini cocktails as you watch the gondolas pass by. Cipriani said the color of the cocktail reminded him of the color of the toga of a saint in a painting by the 15th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini, so he named it after the artist. Famous writers and world-class drinkers such as Ernest Hemingway and Sinclair Lewis all enjoyed the cocktail at Harry's Bar as a light warm-up before they got down to more serious drinking. The Bellini was also said to be a favorite of the great movie director Orson Wells.

Remember that a real Bellini cocktail is always made with Prosecco, not Champagne or other sparkling wine. At some top bars and clubs in Shanghai I've noticed that Bellini cocktails are made with Champagne - such a shame. The essence of a Bellini is its gentle and friendly nature and the intensity of Champagne ruins these subtle qualities. If you want a Champagne cocktail, have a Kir Royal. The proper ratio of peach juice to Prosecco varies, so as with a Kir make it your way. Personally, I like about one-sixth peach juice and the rest Prosecco.Sherry-Rum Ice Cream-tini

Sherry is one of the world's most historic and storied wines. Shakespeare was a great fan of Sherry, in fact he wrote, "If I had a thousand sons, the first human principle I would teach them would be to forswear thin portations and dedicate themselves to Sherry." In other words, don't waste time with insipid wines, drink Sherry. No lesson in Spanish culture would be complete without knowledge and appreciation of this unique wine and its place of origin, Jerez. Located in Andalusia in the southwest of Spain, the area has a 3,000 year history and is also the birthplace of flamenco dancing and tapas. Because Sherry cocktails are so popular in Spain I wanted to invent a Sherry cocktail here in China. We worked with A-Plus Sake Bar in Taipei along with the Chinese Sherry Association to create a number of new Sherry cocktails. One of the most popular is the Sherry-Rum Ice Cream-tini. Not only does it have a really fun name but it's a wonderfully rich, smooth and sweet treat.Kir & Kir Royal

Since commercial production of cassis, a sweet black current liquor from Dijon, France, began in 1841 the locals would mix it with white wine to make a cocktail they called blanc-cassis, literally meaning white cassis. After World War II, the economy in and around Dijon was devastated. The new mayor of Dijon Felix Kir, who also happened to be a priest and war hero, was looking for ways to promote local products. Because the blanc-cassis cocktail combined two important local products he started to serve this cocktail at every official reception. In fact, this was the only cocktail he would allow and soon domestic and international delegations to Dijon started to spread the word that this was an exceptionally delicious, mouth-watering drink. Felix Kir was so successful in promoting this drink that it started to become known by his surname. Today you can walk into any bar in the world and say Kir and any bartender worth his wage will serve you white wine and cassis.

An offshoot of the Kir cocktail is the Kir Royal which combines Champagne and Kir. There are two schools of Kir lovers, old-school proponents that like it sweet and new-school drinkers who desire only a touch of sweetness. In Mayor Kir's time the drink was quite sweet with two-thirds white wine and one-third cassis. Today many Kirs are made with much less cassis and therefore the cocktail has only a touch of sweetness and is paler in color. The International Bartenders Association suggests one-tenth cassis and the rest white wine but the cocktail as served in France usually has at least two-tenths cassis. My suggestion for the perfect Kir is to try differing amounts of cassis and see how you like it. The traditional wine used to make a Kir is Aligote white wine from Burgundy; however any fresh, dry white wine is appropriate.


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