Monday, October 24, 2016

COCO Cocktail -- An Idea Whose Time Has Come...for Some.

Years ago, back in my single days, I remember hanging out with some of my besties at my bachelor pad, quaffing some of my homebrews and probably watching a basketball game. The conversation turned, at one point, to different beer flavors.

Now, this was in the days before the craft beer boom -- when now-standard stuff like Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams were considered cocks of the walk. I'd done one of my first attempts at a flavored beer -- a knockoff of Magic Hat #9 that had a nice undertone of apricot -- as well as a slightly boosted alcohol level -- but I digress.

Anyway, I mused about why no one ever made vitamin-enriched beer. It would seem pretty straightforward -- add some baby vitamins before bottling, and a sixer could get you 100% RDA of all your vitamins and minerals. In a merciful turn, I never attempted that little experiment.

Fast forward a sizable chunk of years, and at my door arrives a sample of an interesting new alcoholic beverage called Coco Cocktail #REFRESH -- a concoction declaring itself an "all-natural electrolyte-charged 70% coconut water" which is "a good source of vitamins." As you can see from the nutrition facts, there is actual nutritional value within -- and a 4 pack would get you close to 100% RDA of Vitamins A, C, D, E, B1, and B6. There are also 14g of carbs within and it's gluten free, if you're concerned about such things.

This hashtaggy can of lightly carbonated beverage is labeled as a "wine specialty" -- meaning a flavored fermented beverage made from something other than typical grapes. It stands at 5.6% ABV, so it's in the ballpark of a typical IPA. The "wine specialty" in this case is that the alcohol comes from orange wine, which I assume is not the same version that Poussey produced on Orange in the New Black.

"Enough, dude -- what does it actually taste like?"

I received two cans of the stuff. The first one I had on its own. It's lightly carbonated and not overly heavy bodywise. I expected it to be heavier than it was, but it's not overly cloying. The flavor is strongly citrus and fairly sweet. The Sweet Partner in Crime and I kept trying to nail down what it reminded us of. It seems to be at an intersection of original Gatorade, Fresca, and sour mix, minus any of that aspartame/Nutrasweet aftertaste. If a beverage in that particular flavor range appeals to you -- you'll probably dig this.

It drinks pretty easily. I can see putting one away pretty quickly if you had a mind to do so. It wouldn't be my first choice of alcoholic beverage, unless I were in a situation where I'd crave a sports drink -- like after working in the yard all day or needing a replenish after overindulging the night before. It'd be a good hair-of-the-dog, if you didn't have bloody mary makings handy.

I imagined it would make a decent mixer, so I tested out can #2 in that frame. Honestly, my days of drinking sour mix-based cocktails are largely in the rear view. (Pampero Anniversario on the rocks, please...)  For science, however, I decided to cobble together a couple of drinks using Coco Cocktail #REFRESH as a replacement for sour mix. I made miniature versions of a Tom Collins, a margarita, and an Amaretto sour. The Collins didn't work -- coconut and gin don't shake hands. Since the Coco Cocktail is less sweet than most sour mixes, I thought it improved the other two drinks -- cutting back the sugary edge a bit and smoothing out the mouthfeel.

[Remember -- it's 5.6%, so adjust the alcohol levels accordingly. Or don't.]

I can certainly see the appeal of an alcoholic sports-ish drink or a mixer that could act as a party cocktail amplifier. Back at the bachelor pad, I'd probably have kept a pack of these around my stash of tequila and Grand Marnier for spontaneous margaritas. And we'd have toasted our smarts for drinking healthy.

COCO Cocktail retails for $8.99 for a 4-pack.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Naked Vine One-Hitter: Harken, the "Throwback Chardonnay"

When I went to the Sweet Partner in Crime's house for the first time, she offered me a glass from a big ol' bottle of Meridian chardonnay that she had in the fridge. This was in the early oughts, when most California chardonnay was chardonnay -- big, oaky, buttery wine with lots of emphasis on the oak.

That flavor profile was the common style, in my experience, up until the middle of the 2000's -- when many wine consumers, including myself, started turning their backs on chardonnay in favor of wines that were a little less rough around the edges. The rise of Sauvignon Blanc and Dry Riesling -- more fruit, less creamy charcoal -- started to eat into that market, as did relatively inexpensive imports from South America and Europe. In my personal shopping habits, California chardonnay went from "always in my shopping basket" to an aisle I rarely ventured down.

Sensing the change in consumer desire, California chardonnays started dialing back the level of oak and butter. Unoaked chardonnay became a thing, as winemakers turned to stainless steel for aging instead of oak barrels. Buttery flavors faded -- until many left coast chards became almost indistinguishable from the lighter-styled wines coming in from all over.

The pendulum is beginning to swing back in the budget wine world, as evidenced by a recent sample of Harken 2015 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay that I was lucky enough to try. Harken bills itself as "Old School Chardonnay," so I readied myself for a bit of a blast from palate's past.

Before we get to the wine, let's take a moment and talk about Chardonnay in general. Chardonnay may well be the most flexible varietal in the world. It can grow in almost any climate that supports vinifera grape growing. Chardonnay reflects the terroir of a region very distinctly. One of the fun things about unoaked chardonnay is that it gives a drinker a real sense of place (minerally soil vs. volcanic -- warm vs. cool, et al.). Unoaked chardonnay, however, can be fairly ordinary -- so adding touches of oak or butter can jazz up the overall profile.

Oakiness in wine comes from juice contact with wood. The wine soaks into the wood a bit, extracting some of that oaky flavor. Barrels can be charred, or charred staves can be added to a fermentation tank, to boost the level of smokiness.

The creamy, buttery flavors come from a process called malolactic fermentation (or just "malo" to wine heads). This is a process by which bacteria is added to wine, converting malic acid -- which is fairly tart -- to lactic acid. "Lactic" means "of milk," and this compound is found in most dairy products. Malolactic fermentation is often used to smooth out high-acid wines, such as cool climate wines, but it can also be used to really accentuate a buttery note in the wine.

Which brings us to the Harken itself. It's entirely fermented in oak barrels and goes through 100% malolactic fermentation, which cuts the acidity and sweetness. It's aged for 7 months in an 80/20 mixture of American and French oak and then bottled.

Thankfully, the Harken's constructed with a little more care than some of those inexpensive bottles from those oak bomb days of yore. I found distinct sweet apples and pears on the nose. As advertised, there are strong creamy, caramelly notes on the palate, backed by a firm smoky oak background and more pear and tropical fruit flavors. I hesitate to call it "creme brulee" -- because there's really no sweetness to speak of. The finish is solidly oaky with a bit of an apricot note.

I thought that it would make a nice accompaniment for a smoked duck breast that I'd done in my new Cameron stovetop gizmo, but I was a little disappointed by the pairing. The smoke and oak flavors really didn't agree with each other. However, I tried a little of it a couple of nights later with roasted tilapia with a garden tomato salsa, and that went really well. The oakiness is able to tame food that has a little bit of a zip to it -- so I would think it would go with any number of food selections.

The Harken Chardonnay is around $15 retail. I do have to give their marketing department a special shoutout. The promo sample I received came with its materials on the reel of an old Mattel ViewMaster. If you're of a certain age, you'll remember this 3D viewing gizmo with the two lenses. You know, something like this:

I won't lie. It gave me a pleasant childhood flashback and made me smile. The wine's pretty good, too.