There is a famous sign that welcomes visitors to the Napa Valley that includes a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson that reads, “…and the wine is bottled poetry.” Isn’t that a beautiful thought? I needed a new direction for my Monday posts and I admit to be totally inspired by this idea. Cocktails and poetry… yes, that would work, but what would make it even better would be to make it a series about using wine as a ingredient in drinks, in much the same way as I did with my beer cocktails. Please tell me that you’re as excited as I am! I began with some research, and found that there were no hard and fast rules for using wine in cocktails, so I made my own: #1. The wine has to be used as an ingredient that makes sense; it can’t overpower the drink. #2. The cocktails do NOT have to be serve exclusively in wineglasses. #3. No more than two sangrias allowed in this series! With those guidelines in places, I was ready to get started.
Rainer Maria Rilke is widely regarded as one the most influential of the German poets. His use of language is beautiful and I’ve always loved his work, from as far back when I was in high school. I bought a book of his poetry, newly translated by Edward Snow, at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris when I was there two years ago. In his collection called New Poems, Rilke explored the idea of learning the meaning of life and existence through contemplating what he called “things.” This grounded this particular selection of poems in realistic images and made them seem simpler and more straightforward to read, yet they dealt with subjects that were the farthest thing from uncomplicated. Having spent time as the sculptor Auguste Rodin’s secretary, he learned the skill of “perceptive observation,” and then attempted to translate what he observed into art and an understanding of the higher power at work in our lives. Today’s poem reads as follows:
Woman at a Balcony
Suddenly she steps, sheathed in the wind,
brightly into brilliance, as if singled out,
while the room behind her now slips in
to fit the door’s outline,
darkly like the background of cameo
that lets the merest glint in at the edges;
and you think the evening wasn’t there
before she stepped out, and on the railing
set forth just a little of herself,
just her hands, — to be completely light:
so the house rows might pass her on
to the heavens, to be moved by everything.
For me, this is a poem about transformation, and the way that it can feel like a sudden, yet still hesitant process. The woman steps out onto the balcony into the brilliance of the sun, and feels the movement of the wind, indicating that the process of change has already begun and there is no turning back. The room behind her has, in fact, become immersed in darkness, so that she is silhouetted against it now. The evening wasn’t real before she stepped out, just as the possibility of change could not happen until she was ready to embrace it. And even though there is a slight hesitation, she reaches her hands forward into the brightness and waits for the houses below her to lift her into the fullness of her transformation. Isn’t this how change often occurs for us? We are ready, and we take that first step, and immediately feel the effect of what we have done as an almost physical force. And though we may feel momentarily reluctant, once we see the brilliance of this new place we are in, we are ready to let go and be carried even further forward by the forces we ourselves have set in motion.
For today’s cocktail, I decide to totally transform a gin and tonic. You all know how much I have loved Standard’s Wormwood’s rye whiskey. Last week their distillery sent me their gin to try, and it was no surprise to me that I found it to be equally fantastic. It’s herbal notes are very different, warmer and woodsier, yet there is no question that this is a gin that you are drinking. It was the perfect base spirit for a cocktail about transformation, since wormwood is the spirit known for its ability to bring about quiet lucidity. I added Suze next because it’s extracted from the gentian root, which is very close to cinchona bark, the source of the quinine we find in tonic water. When it came to choosing a wine for this drink, I immediately reached for a Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. It is one of my favorites because of its refreshing acidity, bright, herbal flavors, and general lack of any kind of cloying sweetness. It’s one of the few whites that can range from being the perfect pairing for goat cheese to working just as well with pizza or a light red pasta sauce. Its “green” flavor profile complemented the herbal notes in the gin, and balanced the sweetness and slight bitterness of the Suze, while bringing an overall crispness to the drink. New Zealand SBs tend to always have a grapefruit component to them, which allowed me to add a little bit of grapefruit juice to the mix as well. I served it over ice in a beautifully handpainted short Collins glass. I received a pair of them as a gift this past weekend, and I was so excited to be able to use one for this cocktail! It even fit the theme of the post, as something that has suddenly been transformed into more. The cocktail itself is a fairly boozy drink that retains the flavor and feel of a gin and tonic, but has more weight and seriousness to it. It’s meant to be sipped while you contemplate your own transformation. That being said, if you find it to be too heavy, you can always served it in a taller glass with 2-3 ounces of tonic or club soda on top. Cheers everyone. Happy Monday!
Brightly Into Brilliance
Add all the ingredients to a shaker tin with ice and shake until cold. Strain into a short Collins glass. Express a grapefruit peel over the drink and garnish. Enjoy!