One might think that Germany and the strictness of nuns can have nothing in common with booze and fun. Well, that's not true. That's taking the opening literally and ignoring the proud brewing traditions of Deutschland and that one nun who was always kind albeit a little loopy. No, what we mean here are German wines which are delicious and oftentimes ignored due to the popularity of their European cousins and the rigidness of many a Franconian label. Established in 1857 by Hermann Sichel, Blue Nun Wines has redefined itself with the changing times and as such has proven a popular wine choice outside of Germany.
Currently undertaking another salvo of reinvention, Blue Nun joined recently with Miami-based Bar Culture consultant Chris Hudnall to apply the current line of wines (Riesling, Authentic White and Sweet Red) to summer-themed cocktails in a Think Magazine sponsored tasting at C&I Studios in Ft. Lauderdale. Now owned by the Langguth family, themselves involved in Germany's wine production since 1789, current International Managing Director Patrick Langguth was present to provide a little history on the company and to illustrate their new directions of "finding new ways of drinking wine" that are "fun and a little crazy."
For this experiment in the reduction of perceived German austerity, Hudnall created four cocktails with varying degrees of ingredient difficulty and personal involvement that are easily adaptable to group sizing and can be mastered by anyone who can measure with some competence. To illustrate this, Hudnall gave a brief intro to the wines and his philosophy for creating great cocktails and then promptly handed the bar over to the guests assembled for the tasting. While the results differed greatly amongst the attendees, most nailed the recipes with a second try.
Before we share the cocktails, a quick word on the wines that were available for tasting unadulterated; the Authentic White is a crisp white with latent tones of fruit that diffuse into the back of the palate with a little bitterness that is not unpleasant. The Sweet Red will suffer with red wine drinkers because of its name. In reality it is more balanced in sweetness than the name would lead to believe -- with the sweetness occurring up front and disseminated by tail's end, which is not thick like most sweet reds. A nice red wine that benefits from chilling or from a couple of ice chips that goes well with heady cheeses and fatty meats.
Hudnall opened up with the 50 Pound Blue Nun, which is made with one ounce Authentic White, one ounce 50 Pounds Gin, ¾ of an ounce of honey syrup (clover honey and warm water), one ounce of lemon juice, three to four dashes of celery bitters, two dashes of lavender bitters which are all poured in together, shook, strained and served with a basil leaf garnish in an Old Fashioned glass. While the basil oils do not factor into the cocktail, I found that crushing the leaves with my fingertips released that delicious aroma no good Mediterranean boy like me could pass up on, and it kind of opened up my appetite.
A balanced and refreshing cocktail, the combination of gin and white wine was surprisingly mellow and the body of the drink, while built on that boozy medley, relied more for effect on the sum of its parts. An easy one to mix ahead of time and it would pay to mix a large batch by multiplying the recipe accordingly.
The Sweet Red factored into two of the cocktails crafted by Hudnall, and in the Blue Nun Hibiscus Sorbet it provided the necessary balance of sweetness to the aromatic-heavy cocktail. Two ounces of Sweet Red wine, ¾ of an ounce of honey syrup with a walnut infusion, half an ounce of lemon juice, three to four dashes of Spanish bitters and two thyme sprigs get stirred in a bowl and are served with a thyme sprig and hibiscus crystal garnish in a sorbet cup.
The hibiscus crystals were not available at the tasting so on their absence one can only speculate but the drink itself managed a robust head on what would seemingly appear as a wholeheartedly fruity cocktail. The walnut infusion was a little lost in the already tasty honey syrup and it might just be a matter of taste on that but it seems like a superfluous step in the process. Maybe you can try that against the hibiscus garnish and see if there is a nutty counterbalance that affects the overall taste, there is certainly elbow room within the recipes to have a little fun and go a little crazy. It is the Blue Nun mission statement after all.
The other cocktails prepared by the guests under Hudnall's tutelage were variants of sangria, one with the Sweet Red and coconut water and the other with the Riesling and sundried pineapples, both tasty but worthy of large-batch manufacture as they are somewhat too cumbersome for individual preparation. But then again, even if you're making yourself sangria, it's better to go pitcher-size than by the glass, right? And it is this spirit of fun and experimentation that Blue Nun wants to impart into their current lineup of wines, which have proven their versatility and will go a long way of changing the robotic/draconian stereotypes of German wines.
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