Making Aperitif Cocktails: California Wineries Make Aperitif Wines, and Step Into Cocktails

Tips from Celebrated Bartender, Christopher Longoria

Christopher Longoria

Christopher Longoria, photo courtesy of 1760

“It depends on what you want from a cocktail.” Christopher Longoria, celebrated Bar Program Manager at the ingredient-driven restaurant 1760 in San Francisco, tells me. “Are you trying to showcase the aperitif, or using a characteristic of it to make something else?”

Known for his creative approach, Longoria relies less on recipes for cocktail classics when behind the bar, and more on a culinary style, thinking first in terms of aromas and textures, to mix drinks. He is advising me on the art of mixing cocktails made from aperitif wines.

Recent years have brought a small boon in California artisanal aperitifs made by small-scale wineries. Longoria has found that these fortified wines, such as vermouth and chinato, offer an advantage behind the bar. Cocktails made from spirits tend to be less aromatic while also higher in alcohol but aperitif wines are able to offer a lot of character at lower proof.

A California Product

Matthiasson 2011 Flora Vermouth

Vermouth in particular has garnered recent attention. Vya and Sutton Cellars hold the spot as two of the most significant examples of American vermouth. Vya makes a range of styles from sweet, to dry, and extra dry, while Sutton Cellars gives a sweet version carrying both citrus and bitter elements.

More recently other small-scale examples have come out of Napa. Last year, Matthiasson released a sweet vermouth tasting of blood orange and coriander, while Massican has now released several vintages of dry vermouth offering a lighter body with citrus and floral notes.

“I use vermouth for different characteristics,” Longoria explains. “It tends to be good for aromatics, and depending on the vermouth, I will use it to make a silky texture.” The type of vermouth makes a difference in how to approach it, Longoria explains. The style – sweet to dry – also relates to the aperitifs weight on the palate.

“A sweet vermouth,” Longoria explains, “acts as the foundation of a drink. It gives it body, earthiness and sweetness.” When mixing with sweet vermouth you want your other ingredients to be lighter bodied, while also complementing the vermouth aroma and flavor. A bit of dry vermouth mixed with sweet can help focus the character of the final beverage.

“Dry vermouth is good for finishing a drink, tightening it up without drying it out,” Longoria tells me. “I use just a touch of dry vermouth to pull the body back in if I use something that would be too rich on its own.” As a result, the drink finishes clean in the mouth, leaving your palate ready for a different experience with the next cocktail.

More unusual aperitifs perfect for mixing have also cropped up in California.

Palmina Chinato

In Santa Barbara County, Palmina delivers a small production chinato made with the winery‘s Nebbiolo, and flavored with locally grown ingredients.

In Sonoma, Vivier Wines has created what might be the only Pineau des Charentes in the United States under the name Sexton-Vivier – made in honor of both the winemaker’s grandmother and his wife. By fortifying pressed juice, rather than already fermented wine, the drink retains a sense of freshness along with a sweet, herbal element.

Cocktails at Home

Sexton Vivier 2012 Pineau des Charentes

How to use artisanal aperitifs at home? Start simple, and play, Longoria says.

“You can take a classic cocktail, and switch up a key ingredient.” Longoria suggests. “Chinato can be used to make a black Manhattan. It works in mixed drinks like a darker, more herbaceous amaro.”

Similarly, Matthiasson vermouth works well in a negroni bringing out a blood orange element that gives the drink a new twist. The Massican or Sexton-Vivier, on the other hand, offer each a decidedly different take on a martini.

“When it comes to gin and vermouth,” or other mid-weight aperitifs, like the Pineau, Longoria explains, “consider the aroma. Gins tend to be really aromatic. If you want to play that up, go with an apertif with complementary aromatics. Or if you want the gin to be the focus, go with a milder one.”

The viscosity also comes into play. In the case of the Sexton-Vivier, its fuller body brings a sweet note to a gin martini, while the Massican keeps a lighter bodied focus on lifted aromatics.

“Making mixed drinks at home,” Longoria says, “it’s all about playing with the ingredients, and getting the palate attuned to it. Start with small portions, and get familiar with your components before you mix them. Figure out what you like, and mix from there.”

Christopher Longoria offered the following tips to get started making mixed drinks from artisanal aperitifs at home, and a recipe for Massican, an off-dry vermouth with a focus on delicate citrus and floral elements.

Massican 2012 Vermouth

Tips for Mixing Aperitif Cocktails at Home

  • Get Familiar with your aperitif on its own – it’s aroma, viscosity, and level of sweetness
  • Mix small portions first
  • Think of a sweet aperitif as the body of your cocktail, then mix with lighter bodied aperitifs or spirits with complementary aromas to accent it
  • Think of a dry aperitif as a way to tighten the body and finish of other ingredients
  • Don’t be afraid to mix different aperitifs together for a low-proof cocktail

Here’s a recipe from Christopher Longoria using the Massican Vermouth.

Aperitivo

Apertivo by Christopher Longoria

Apertivo without ice, photo courtesy of Christopher Longoria

.75 oz Massican Vermouth
.75 oz Bertina Elderflower
2 dashes orange bitters

Add ice, if desired. Stir.

Top with 1 oz. Marotti Campi Brut Rosé.
May also be topped with a Blanc Brut Cava for slightly less fruit flavor.

Enjoy!

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2 COMMENTS

    • Ethan, thank you! I was hoping this article might fetch out any other possible US examples of Pineau. They don’t get discussed much! Looking forward to hunting some down to try. Is the Westport Pineau a Pinot-Chardonnay blend?

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