If you’ve ever been to Italy, or almost anywhere in Europe for that matter, you’ve probably at least seen an Aperol spritz or have maybe even enjoyed one yourself. If you haven’t, you’re probably wondering what the heck an Aperol spritz is. It’s the drink of summertime in Northern Italy and much of Austria. Plainly, it is some combination of Aperol, soda, Brut wine, orange slices, and ice.
Aperol: Italian Aperitivo and Amaro
Aperol is a bittersweet, orange, classic Italian aperitivo. Aperitivos, or apéritifs in French, are dry, light, and bittersweet drinks that are usually slightly alcoholic and served prior to dinner, in order to “open up the palate” or stimulate one’s appetite before a large meal. In Northern Italy, if Aperol is not served as the aperitivo, then usually a dry vermouth, a dry wine, or Campari (akin to Aperol, it’s a bittersweet, orange classic Italian aperitivo, but with a higher alcohol content) is served in its place. Alongside aperitivos, small, dry, finger-food snacks, such as green olives, nuts, cheese, prosciutto, salami, chips, or crackers are typically served. In Europe, people tend to eat much slower than Americans do and leisurely enjoy their time at the table, before, during, and after dinner, which is why aperitivos are such an important facet of European culture. Even digestivos, or drinks to be enjoyed post-supper, exist! If you’ve ever had an Amaro, a bitter, herbal, citrus, and/or floral Italian liquer made from brandy, it’s most likely you have sipped on a digestif; however, Aperol and Campari, which are aperitivos, are actually considered Amaro.
The term “spritz” is not Italian, but rather comes from Italy’s northern neighbor, Austria. Between the years 1805 and 1866, Austria actually possessed what is now much of Northern Italy, though the two countries still share a border today. Because Austrians found Italy’s acidic white wine unpalatable, they would often “spritzen” up their wine with a splash of sparkling water or soda, which is how the term “spritz” was coined. Just like in Italy, you can order an Aperol spritz nearly anywhere in Austria, albeit it’s less likely to be served with the same pre-dinner snacks you’ll find in Italy.
Brut Sparkling Wine
Since I’ve discussed the first two ingredients of an Aperol spritz, I will finish with the most important ingredient of an Aperol spritz–the sparkling wine! Sparkling wine, has many names around the world, depending on the country and region in which it’s produced, what grape varieties are used to produce it, and the amount of residual sugar, or lack thereof, in the wine. Most Italian sparkling wine is called Prosecco. While Prosecco is sometimes associated with being sweet, it can also be dry or somewhere in-between sweet and dry. There are four basic categories to indicate how sweet it is: brut, extra-dry, dry, and demi-sec. Because there’s already a considerable amount of sugar in Aperol, the type of Prosecco that is traditionally used in an Aperol spritz is Brut–the driest. Our Gracie Sparkling is also a Brut, which is why it works so well in an Aperol spritz!
An Italian-Inspired Playlist
One of the things I love about an Aperol spritz is that it can make you feel like you’re sitting on a piazza on Lake Como, with wisteria growing overhead and a nice cool breeze blowing through… until you realize you’re stuck at home in a global pandemic. What I’m trying to say is those initial first sips are always spectacularly refreshing. To lengthen that first-sip feeling, I’ve created a “Virtual Euro Trip” playlist, so that Lake Como fantasy can last just a moment longer.
Aperol Spritz with Gracie Sparkling Brut
3 oz. Aperol (can be found at almost any grocery or specialty liquor store)
Fill a wine glass about half way with ice, or with about five large ice cubes.
Measure out Aperol and dump into glass. Pour an equal amount Gracie Sparking Brut into glass (you will have to eyeball this part; it’s a lot more difficult to measure, because it’s bubbly). Top with a splash of sparkling water.
Add 1-2 halved orange slices inside glass for garnish. Enjoy on a warm summer day with our “Virtual Trip to Italy” playlist!
I hope I’ve inspired you to enjoy this breezy Italian classic cocktail at home! Please let us know if you make any of these dishes. We’d love to hear from you!
Grazing boards (a fancy name for large charcuterie boards) are one of the easiest culinary trends at the moment. Not only can anyone make them, they are gorgeous and delicious, and also all the rage on Instagram. They’re perfect in almost any setting–lounging around the pool, avoiding small talk at a party, or at home, just because you want a snack. Since I’ve been in charge of overseeing several McGrail winery events, I’ve also been the creator of nearly every cheeseboard or crudité platter our winery events have seen. That’s a lot of charcuterie for one girl to make! With this experience, I’d say I have a pretty good grasp on what it takes to make a respectable grazing board. I’ve come up with some easy-to-follow steps, which are listed below, to make your own Insta-worthy grazing board at home.
Find a pretty plate, platter, board, or tray to use. It can be old or it can be new, but it should be pretty. Make sure it’s the right size. How many people will be enjoying your masterpiece? Make sure it’s clean. Wash it if you need to.
Consider your main components–cheese, meat, fresh fruit, fresh veggies, nuts, crackers, olives, dried fruits, dips, jams, herbs, etc. Try to choose ingredients that are colorful. Rainbow carrots, mini heirloom tomatoes, sweet peppers, and various colorful fruits are some of my favorite munchies to use. When you choose ingredients that are naturally colorful, your board will be both more visually appealing and more nutritious.
Also think about how your guests will be eating each component–with their hands, with a toothpick, etc. Will they need mini tongs to pick up each piece? Will they need somewhere to dispose of toothpicks or rinds? Will you be providing snack plates or napkins? Your guests will likely need something to cut the cheese wedges with. Make sure you have one knife available for each type of cheese that needs to be cut.
Start by placing your larger pieces on the board first. Larger, stickier items, like cheese wedges should be placed around the outer edges of the board. This is helpful for keeping smaller snacks, like nuts or berries, from falling off the sides of your board. Dips, jams, and sauces in small bowls or saucers should also be placed on the board first, but should go in the center of the board to reduce risk of falling off. Hummus is always great to have with veggies.
Separate similar colors and similar ingredients. Separating your colors will up the “wow” factor of your board, because it makes it appear more colorful. If you have red cherries and strawberries, put one on one side of the board and one on the opposite side of the board. Although certain components should be separated, do not just simply put a handful of each thing on the board. The placement should look organic, not careless. Some placements should be triangular, some should be long and skinny, and some should be funky.
Make the board as full as possible. The more you have on the board, the prettier it will be! It will need to be fuller in the center and more sparse on the edges. You can use other fixings as support for smaller ingredients. Stack your blueberries as high as you can. It’s okay if they’re overflowing onto a cheese wedge.
Get creative with your components. Each part doesn’t just have to be one ingredient. One thing I like to do is chop up apples, squeeze lemon over them, drizzle honey on top, and sprinkle a bit of blue cheese over the honey. Or, cut some mozzarella into small pieces, add a dollop of pesto or a basil leaf and a mini tomato, and stick a toothpick through it for a mini caprese salad.
Cut up fruits or veggies that have seeds or pits or that would be cumbersome to eat whole. Bell peppers should be seeded and sliced into sticks, because just straight up eating a whole bell pepper would feel ridiculous and messy. Watermelons and oranges should be sliced, with the skins left on to make eating them easier. Don’t forget some fruits, like apples and pears should be squeezed with lemon once sliced and seeded to keep them from turning brown!
Create patterns or artwork by manipulating certain ingredients. Salami can be folded into quarters and bunched together for a unique look. The tips of strawberries can be cut and worked to look like roses. Make it interesting to look at and to eat.
Lastly, add some fun herbs or edible flowers as a garnish. This can contribute some serious pop to the board. A few sprigs of rosemary is a lovely and easy way to class up the board.
Though nearly every wine can be enjoyed with a grazing board, not every grazing board should be enjoyed with every wine. It’s a rule in the wine world that most food can be enjoyed with sparkling wine due to its versatility, which is why I have chosen to pair our Gracie Brut with an equally stunning grazing board.
Based on my experience, here are foods I recommend using on a grazing board to enjoy alongside Gracie:
Mozarella, tomato, and pesto bites
Herb focaccia bread
Balsamic basil Triscuit crackers
Granny smith apple
I hope I’ve inspired you to create your own fun, summertime grazing boards at home! Please let us know if you do. We’d love to hear from you!
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed the shelter-in-place has increased the need for hobbies and has brought out the best of the population’s creativity and resourcefulness, especially when it comes to culinary and mixology creations. I’m pretty sure I’ve spent more time preparing food and beverages in the past three weeks than I did for the entirety of 2019. With it becoming more dangerous to leave the house and to even go to the grocery store, I’ve got to be innovative with what I already have at home. Still, I know how important it is to support locally owned restaurants and I have been getting take out as much as my budget will permit. With a restricted budget that unfortunately won’t allow me to drink takeaway negronis and eat ahi nachos and rib eye for every meal, I’ve been making do with what I’ve got in my garden, my wine closet, and my pantry.
During my time as a Wine Business Strategies student at Sonoma State University, I was required to participate in a mixology project, in which students designed recipes for wine cocktails that would make the wine seem less stuffy and more sexy. Aside from this being a requirement for my Intro to Wine Business course, the projects would be entered into a competition amongst all course students at both Sonoma State and Texas Tech, judged by several Masters of Wine and other impressive wine industry professionals. For this project, my partner and I agreed on a lavender lemon mimosa cocktail, which was feminine, fragrant, and refreshing. With this recipe, our project was voted into the top three cocktails in our class, but went on to win first place in the competition between all Intro to Wine Business students at SSU and Texas Tech! While the recognition and the $250 cash award were exciting, the best part of this experience for me was learning about mixology. Since doing this project, I have been intrigued by the way wine interacts with other ingredients and how the combination of certain flavors can result in an absolute masterpiece or a total dud.
With lots of time at home and few ingredients to work with, I’ve come up with some completely innovative, yet chic cocktails, incorporating one of my favorite McGrail wines at the moment–the Gracie Sparkling Brut. Using fresh flowers, fruit, and herbs from my garden, a few ingredients from my pantry, and the adult beverages from my liquor cabinet, I’ve found a few delightful ways to complement my favorite bubbles.
Don’t worry if you don’t have any McGrail Gracie Sparkling Brut at home at the moment. We have several ways to get you these bubbles! We are currently offering:
Local home delivery at no additional cost for new orders
One cent shipping to anywhere in California for new orders
Drive-up service at the winery (receive wine without leaving your car)
Through my mixology research, I’ve discovered one of the ingredients that can be found in a vast assortment of cocktails is simple syrup. Made using equal parts water and sugar, it really is simple. Although sometimes simple is best, simple usually isn’t flavorful or interesting, which is why I decided to make some herb and floral-infused simple syrups with what I have at home and base each cocktail around these flavors.
Before you turn around and decide you don’t want to make these cocktails because the simple syrups are too much work, let me tell you, they’re NOT. It took me less than ten minutes to make each simple syrup. Every one of these recipes can easily be doubled or tripled to produce more and these tasty syrups are so versatile, they can also be used in coffee, tea, lemonade, and really any other beverage, not just cocktails.
If you don’t have all the ingredients to make them right now, ask your neighbors! I would be honored to give up some of my ginormous rosemary plant to someone who just needed a delicious cocktail to get through another day of shelter-in-place.
Lavender-Infused and Rosemary-Infused Simple Syrups
I first became acquainted with lavender simple syrup during my wine cocktail project at SSU and I fell in love immediately. I know floral flavors aren’t for everyone, but OMG, this stuff is special. Not only is lavender revered for its healing and medicinal properties, it also combats anxiety, depression, and insomnia. I think everyone could use a little bit of some relaxing lavender in their lives right now. I was excited to find my French and English lavender in bloom this past week, so I decided to dry a bunch of it. If you’ve never dried a bunch of lavender before, here‘s a quick how-to from HGTV. If you don’t have French or English lavender at home, dried buds can be purchased online through Amazon or Cost Plus World Market.
Another herb I tend to have a ton of in my garden is rosemary. I love the way it smells and tastes, especially when it’s fresh. Although it’s normally used in savory foods, it’s pretty versatile and can also be used in sweet drinks.
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. dried lavender buds or 1/4 to 1/3 cup fresh rosemary leaves
In a small saucepan, heat water, sugar, and lavender buds or rosemary leaves over medium, stirring frequently. Allow syrup to boil for two minutes, then remove from heat.
Once cool, use a mesh strainer to strain away any excess debris from the syrup. Pour syrup into a container (I used mason jars) to store and place in the refrigerator.
Enjoy in your Gracie Sparkling Brut cocktails or in coffee or tea. Store in the refrigerator and discard if not used within 30 days.
Rose Petal-Infused and Mint-Infused Simple Syrups
Though it isn’t really the season for roses to be in bloom, I was happy to find one of my rose bushes blooming this past week. Since this variety of rose is quite fragrant, I thought I could use some to make a simple syrup. I also chose to use some fresh mint to infuse into another simple syrup because it’s always plentiful in my garden. Since the rose petals and mint leaves aren’t as potent as the other herbs and flowers I used, these simple syrups were made a bit differently.
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/3 to 1/2 cup rose petals of a fragrant variety or fresh mint leaves, packed
In a small saucepan, heat water, sugar, and rose petals or mint leaves over medium, stirring frequently. Allow syrup to boil for two minutes, then remove from heat.
Once cool, pour syrup into a container (I used mason jars) to store and place in the refrigerator. Allow the rose petals or mint leaves to sit in the syrup for 12 to 24 hours, in order to maximize the flavor extraction.
Once the rose petals or mint leaves have sat in the syrup for long enough, use a mesh strainer to strain away any excess debris from the syrup.
Enjoy in your Gracie Sparkling Brut cocktails or in coffee or tea. Store in the refrigerator and discard if not used within 30 days.
Gracie Sparkling Brut Cocktails
Now for the fun part–the cocktails! I’ve based four cocktails around each of the aforementioned simple syrups I made. Albeit each cocktail is unique and interesting, all contain one very important ingredient: McGrail’s Gracie Sparkling Brut. This wine was made from a combination of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, using methode champenoise. It is dry, bubbly, and delicious, and with a lower percentage of alcohol than our other wines, it is great to use in cocktails!
Blueberry Lavender French 75
Okay, so obviously I have a thing for lavender-lemon drinks. I really loved the lavender-lemon wine cocktail I had created before, but I also want to change it up a bit for the sake of Gracie Sparkling. French 75s are one of my favorite cocktails, as they typically contain lemon, sugar, gin, and champagne–all tasty things. I’ve combined the lavender-lemon idea and the French 75, added some blueberries, and decided on botanical gin to coincide with the floral flavors of lavender. I love this drink.
About 15 organic blueberries
1 oz. lavender simple syrup
1 oz. botanical gin (I used St. George Botanivore, but I’ve heard Sidewinder Spirits has a killer botanical gin, too. Both distilleries are local.)
In a shaker, muddle blueberries. Add lavender simple syrup, gin, lemon juice, and ice. Shake well.
Over a small-to-medium-sized cocktail glass, use a mesh strainer to sift out blueberry pulp and ice.
Fill the rest of the glass with Gracie Sparkling Brut and garnish with a sprig of lavender. Enjoy!
Rosemary Grapefruit Mimosa
This one was tough. Fresh rosemary can be so potent it overpowers almost anything else you pair it with. At first, I tested out pear puree with the rosemary simple syrup and they tasted nice together, but the rosemary overtook the pear. Fresh grapefruit juice seemed to be pungent enough to match the rosemary simple syrup and the combination of the two is lovely. The rosemary makes this drink unlike any other.
In a shaker, combine rosemary simple syrup, vodka, grapefruit juice, and ice. Shake well.
Remove top of shaker and pour into a champagne flute or a small cocktail glass. Fill the rest of the glass with Gracie Sparkling Brut and garnish with a sprig of rosemary. Cheers!
Blackberry Ginger Sparkling Mojito
What’s not to love about a mojito? They’re cool and thirst-quenching, but the same ol’ drink can get tiresome. I added spicy ginger, yummy blackberry, and sparkling wine components to this classic bevvy. YUM.
Slice of fresh or candied ginger and/or a sprig of fresh mint for a garnish
In a shaker, muddle blackberries. Add mint simple syrup, rum, lime juice, and ice. Shake well.
Over a medium-to-large-sized cocktail glass, use a mesh strainer to sift out blackberry pulp and ice.
Add the ginger beer, fill the rest of the glass with Gracie Sparkling Brut, and garnish with a sprig of mint. Enjoy!
OPTIONAL: If you are able to get your hands on fresh ginger, I recommend fresh-squeezing that ginger over this cocktail for a bit of an added health benefit and extra heat.
Rose Petal Raspberry Sparkler
Last, but certainly not least, the rose petal raspberry sparkler is probably the prettiest of all the cocktails, but also the simplest. The color is gorgeous and the flavor combo is both fruity and floral. The sparkling wine adds just the right amount of yeast and the end result is incredible.
A rose petal and/or an organic raspberry for a garnish
In a shaker, muddle raspberries. Add rose simple syrup, vodka, and ice. Shake well.
Over a small-to-medium-sized cocktail glass, use a mesh strainer to sift out raspberry pulp and ice.
Fill the rest of the glass with Gracie Sparkling Brut and garnish with a rose petal or an organic raspberry. Cheers!
I know you’re probably ready for a cocktail at this point, but the last thing I wanted to share with you is a playlist of bubbly tunes that never fail to make me feel happy! Enjoy.
I hope I’ve inspired you to take advantage of what you have at home during these difficult times and I hope you enjoy these cocktails! Please let us know if you make any of these cocktails and if you have any feedback. We’d love to hear from you!