Rosé and Aperol Spritz. ##Photo by Kathryn Elsesser

Libation Vacation

Beat the heat with creative wine-infused cocktails

By Annelise Kelly

When Oregon is blessed, at last, with a few precious months of long-awaited summer, who can resist spending leisurely sunny days outside? Picnics and patio parties call for a lighter libation than that iconic Oregon tipple, a robust Pinot Noir. In its place, bright cocktails sparkling with citrus and fruit offer a refreshing, seasonal alternative.

For advice on concocting summery drinks that tickle your taste buds and refresh your palate without sending you to bed before sunset, we persuaded a few local mixologists to share some insights about — and recipes for — making fresh, vibrant drinks using wine as an accent or a central ingredient, with or without spirits.

Natasha Mesa has spent several years mixing at influential Portland cocktail bar Deadshot, and is currently head bartendress at Bit House Collective, a collaborative food-beer-cocktail project in Portland.

“For me, putting wine into a cocktail adds an unexpected acidity and tannin, a lot of notes of wood that you wouldn’t normally get from a whiskey.”

She incorporates wine a couple different ways:

Rosé and Aperol Spritz ##Photo by Kathryn Elsesser

“I’ll float it, like in my riff on a New York sour,” Mesa explains. She makes a tea sour using chamomile syrup, with a float of a bright, acidic white wine instead of the traditional red wine. “It really brightens up the cocktail and gives it some nice woody notes, because I typically use an acidic and bright Chardonnay.”

Another favorite strategy is reducing red wine into a syrup. Mesa says, “I can do a really fun wine syrup to add that complexity of the tannins and the nice fruit notes. And I’ll typically go bigger, bolder and fruitier when I use wine syrup. I call myself the ‘Sour Queen.’

“So take a gin bramble, for instance.” The classic bramble consists of gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and blackberry liquer. Follow Mesa’s lead, and substitute a red wine syrup for the simple syrup. “There are so many really simple cocktails you can do just by making syrup from old wines and adding a little bit of sugar,” she explains. “And then you have this beautiful complex ingredient that you can add to just two more ingredients and have a pretty cool cocktail.”

Mesa’s red wine syrup ratio includes less sugar than a simple syrup. She reduces wine by about half, and then instead of adding an equal volume of sugar, as you would for a simple syrup, she adds a volume of sugar equal to about two-thirds of the reduced wine. “I don’t want it to be too sweet, because I still want a lot of those notes to shine from the wine,” she says.

When asked about the challenges and potential pitfalls of incorporating wine into cocktails, she responds, “You know, honestly, I haven’t found too many things that don’t play well when it comes to wine cocktails. I’ll even take a Lambrusco and do fun variations on something like a Sex on the Beach cocktail. By adding Lambrusco instead of cranberry, it makes a really fun new approach to a cocktail that was once a club drink, but now it’s a little bit more elevated.”

At Stoller Family Estate in Dayton, Becca Richards, the winery’s executive chef and culinary director, relies on her past experience as a bartender and bar manager to create drinks that merge Stoller wines seamlessly with other ingredients to create memorable, wine-centric libations. “One of my challenges is to always make sure the wine is the star of the drink, whether it’s for taste or even just visually,” she explains. “You can use sparkles or bubbles to give it a shimmer and a dry, palate-cleansing effect.

“Experimenting at home, I always say start with a stainless-steel white or rosé,” she adds. “I like to mix with the crisp whites rather than the heavy oak Chardonnays. I find that stainless steel Chardonnays or Sauvignon Blancs are a lot crisper and lighter in drinks, as opposed to that really round, palate-coating quality of Chardonnay. They’re very forgiving, and they take to citrus and berries very well.

“What’s not to love about floating strawberries into your rosé cocktail?” The summer-season popularity of Richards’ Frosé, fragrant with Oregon strawberries and accented lightly with lime and mint, answers that question.

Matthew Stiles has been tending the bar at 3 Doors Down Café since the 1990s, in Portland’s Hawthorne neighborhood, and provided a recipe for his simple, eminently quaffable and refreshing spritzer, Along the Trail, which relies on a local white from Newberg.

“Timothy Malone makes his wonderful Viogniers locally that we have as a house wine on a tap,” he explains. “It’s kegged; it’s sustainable. We don’t generate any waste in terms of glass and corks, and it’s just a killer wine. You add a little bit of really good Italian soda water, and some apricot liqueur from the Giffard family in the Loire Valley. It’s something I always do in the summertime. It’s fresh; it’s clean; it smells like sunshine.”

Home bartenders should not overlook the Kir and Kir Royale. These two simple summer beverages combine chilled wine and concentrated fruit to famous effect and are wildly popular throughout parts of Europe.

For a Kir, put a splash of crème de cassis in a wine glass and top with a chilled dry, acidic white wine. The Kir Royale subs Champagne for the white wine for a sparkling and celebratory apéritif served in a flute. Make it your own by substituting any type of fruit liqueur, and take inspiration from Stiles by adding sparkling water for an even lighter, more hydrating drink. Enjoy your light, crisp and refreshing cocktail outside in the afternoon, and imagine you’re lingering in a café overlooking the Rhine River.


Rosé and Aperol Spritz

Becca Richards, Stoller Family Estate, Dayton

“Summer cocktails keep things fun, light, breezy, refreshing, cool and easy drinking. I also prefer batch cocktails for summer, something you can put in a pitcher and allow guests to help themselves, also adding to summer table decor.“

6 ounces passion fruit purée
2 ounces Aperol
2 ounces fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons simple syrup
1 bottle (750 ml) sparkling rosé, chilled -- or -- still rosé
   (plus two cans sparkling water)
* ruby grapefruit or blood orange wedges for garnish

Combine ingredients in pitcher and stir. Pour drink over ice in glass of your choice. Add citrus wedge garnish to glass rim.

Along the Trail

Matthew Stiles, 3 Doors Down Café, Portland

“It’s the perfect low-alcohol, warm-weather drink that includes the beautiful Viognier from the small family-owned winery in the Willamette Valley, Timothy Malone Wines, in Newberg.”  

5 ounces Timothy Malone Viognier (or other white)
1 ounce Giffard apricot liqueur  
4 ounces Lurisia sparkling water
* orange or lemon wedges for garnish

Recipe for two. Combine ingredients and stir. Serve in Claret (wine) glasses over ice. Garnish with orange or lemon wedges. 


Natasha Mesa, Deadshot, Portland

“I like to use a creamy, oaky Chardonnay or a citrusy unoaked Chardonnay for this cocktail. I use an unoaked Chard if I want to bring out more fruit, acid or minerality.”

1.5 ounces whiskey (Mesa suggests Buffalo Trace)
1 ounce fresh lemon juice                           
¾ ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce egg white                         
½ ounce Chardonnay

Make simple syrup: Heat equal parts water and sugar until sugar fully dissolves. Cool completely. In mixing tin or jar with lid, combine whiskey, syrup, juice and egg white; shake without ice. Add ice and shake again. Strain into Old Fashioned glass with fresh ice and float Chardonnay on top by pouring the wine slowly over back of spoon so it trickles onto drink.

Oregon Soft Shock

Michael Alberty, Wine Writer, Tualatin

“Inspired by a recipe from the editors of Punch in Brooklyn, New York, made with all Oregon ingredients.” (See Alberty’s article on Viento Fino on page 24.)

5 mint leaves
¼ ounce Meadowland High Desert Simple Syrup
1½ ounces Viento Wines “Fino”
¾ ounces Freeland Spirits Gin
¾ ounces lime juice
* Rose City Tonic from Portland Syrups

Muddle mint leaves with simple syrup at bottom of Collins or highball glass. Add “Fino,” gin and lime juice. Add fresh ice cubes and top with tonic water. Garnish with mint or lime peel.

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