Stewart Boedecker of Boedecker Cellars in Portland (left) and Boris Wiedenfeld-Needham of The Olde McKenzie Bitters Co. and Bo’s Wine Depot in Eugene and Springfield. ##Photo by Curt Pantuso

Bubbles, Bubbles, Toil, No Troubles

Friends brew up frightfully good spritzer

By Michael Alberty

Want to give your Halloween party guests a good scare? Dust off your best Anthony Hopkins impression and ask, “Care for a white wine spritzer, Clarice?”

A spritzer simply involves diluting wine with sparkling water. If you think no one could possibly mess that up, guess again. Many of the canned versions I’ve encountered feature ghostly wisps of mediocre wines that manage to make sparkling water smell like a urinal cake. The sweeter ones are even scarier.

Fortunately, there’s a new can on the block that drives an orange stake through the heart of insipid wine spritzers everywhere.

Enter Grigio & Arancia Spritzer, a collaboration between Boedecker Cellars in Portland and The Olde McKenzie Bitters Co. in Eugene. Winemakers Stewart Boedecker and Athena Pappas supplied the Pinot Gris; Boris Wiedenfeld-Needham, who owns Bo’s Wine Depot in Eugene and Springfield, conjured the orange bitters.

Boedecker began kicking around the idea of a canned wine spritzer several years ago. His motivations were quality and personal safety. “I love things in cans, but most canned wine is boring and high enough in alcohol that if you don’t pay attention, you end up knocking back a half-bottle of wine in 15 minutes,” Boedecker says.

When Boedecker discovered his old friend, Wiedenfeld-Needham, was producing bitters, he knew it was time to act. Adding bitters to white wine and bubbly water was just the ticket to make an interesting and enjoyable white wine spritzer.

The spring and summer months of 2021 were filled with samples of Gris and bitters going back and forth between Portland and Eugene. Wiedenfeld-Needham describes Boedecker as “quite the alchemist” for his dedication to constantly tweaking the combinations.

Grigio & Arancia Spritzer ##Photo by Marcus Larson

Finally, Boedecker settled on a blend of orange bitters made with fresh organic orange peel and small amounts of ginger root, cinnamon, whole cardamom pods and gentian, a bitter herb. Gentian helps give Moxie, Maine’s official state soda, and Italy’s famed Aperol apéritif their combination of bittersweet aromatics and a distinct citrus pith note on the palate.

Wiedenfeld-Needham and the Boedeckers consider their Grigio & Arancia Spritzer a fall beverage, hence the addition of ginger and cinnamon to supply a little warmth. The cardamom pods were used to provide the bitters’ 80-proof profile with a touch of earthiness. Even the orange can will look right at home in any pumpkin patch or corn maze, so don’t forget straws.

Although adding bitters is a pleasant touch, the wine spritzer concept is hardly new. Dr. David Rufkahr, a beverage historian at Blasen University in Meerbusch, Germany, claims wine spritzers were invented in ancient Rome in 44 BC. That is when Spurius Spritzus, eager to cut the resinous intensity of his favorite Greek white wines, started adding Mediterranean seawater to his evening tipple.

The late Glenn O’Brien, the original GQ style guy, agreed with Dr. Rufkahr’s findings. O’Brien also believed the Romans did humanity a favor. “They thought drinking your wine undiluted was drinking like a barbarian. Scythian style. In classic literature, every time somebody drinks undiluted wine, they do something terrible, like murder somebody,” O’Brien told an interviewer in 2009.

I confess to harboring a wee bit of skepticism when plunking down $5.99 to buy a can of Boedecker Cellars Grigio & Arancia Spritzer. The Barefoot Cellars Pink Moscato Spritzer I tried at Deer Tick’s last Oregon Zoo concert still gives me night sweats. I shouldn’t have been apprehensive.

The Grigio & Arancia Spritzer’s pale color resembles light cast by a Hunter’s Moon. English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins called this yellowish color “hornlight” in honor of the illumination from lanterns with windows made of animal horns.  

The aromatics are even more pleasing. There is a quick burst of pale, dry-style ginger ale, followed by orange peel, fresh tarragon and wet rocks. It reminded me of Polar Seltzer’s Blood Orange Lemonade, which I adore.

Flavors of orange, tonic water and fresh-sliced ginger root are joined by lesser amounts of white peach and grapefruit pith. The bubbles tease more than bully, making for a lightly effervescent drinking experience. “It’s a cool combo of the fresh orange upfront and a little hint of warmth on the finish,” Boedecker said.

Best of all, this is no can of sugar water masquerading as a wine byproduct. The Grigio & Arancia Spritzer is “long white bones with the skin all gone” dry at 7.5% alcohol by volume. It is crisp and refreshing, with enough zippy acidity to revive you after Daylight Saving Time retires.

Thanks to this orange can, I can now enthusiastically join Ned Flanders in demanding a white wine spritzer, and I’m no longer haunted by the ghosts of insipid spritzers past.


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