Holidays are a time for good food and good drink, but more often than not, we substitute good drink for, well, cheap drink. However, cheap wine doesn't have to be bad.
As the international wine industry grows, it's becoming more common to find decent bottles on the cheap, and you can instantly make any wine taste better just by aerating it. But what do you do when you're stuck with something truly horrendous?
Fret not. Here are three ingenious ways to make bad wine your best friend.
If you stroll down the wine aisle, you'll notice that there are wines which are produced from a single grape (single varietal), like Pinot Noir, and then there are wines which are combinations of multiple grapes. For example, wines from the Côtes du Rhône in France are typically blends of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre grapes.
Blending wine is an old art form, but it doesn't have to be difficult. You can easily make your crappy wine taste better by mixing it with a less crappy wine. Sarah Knapton from The Guardian suggests, "First-time blenders should start by mixing wines that are similar in character. For example, blend heavy reds with heavy reds. Or try a little peach wine with some Reisling."
This handy guide from Wine Folly will tell you everything you need to know about which grapes appear in the most common blends, but the nice thing about this hack is that you can't really go wrong. If you're already stuck with a bad bottle, just have fun with it. It couldn't get any worse!
The other nice thing about blending your own wine is you can make an international blend by taking, say, an Australian Shiraz, and blending it with a Spanish Grenache. The world is in your wine glass!
This is my hack of choice for crappy white wine. Unlike reds, whites are a little more difficult to salvage by blending because often bad whites are too sour or buttery, qualities that are difficult to mask.
Simply put, a spritzer is wine plus something fizzy, i.e., soda. You don't have to get fancy with this hack—the easiest and quickest way to fix a glass of white wine is to add a little bit of Sprite, ginger ale, or any other lemon-flavored soda. It'll certainly make the wine sweeter, but that's not always a bad thing.
You can also get more complicated and make elaborate white wine spritzers like this one, featuring mint simple syrup. If you don't want to go too sweet, you can also simply add club soda and a flavorful liqueur like a liquorice, elderflower, or orange liqueur.
There are more inventive white wine cocktails on the planet than there are hairs on my cat. Take a peek at this list for some crazy concoctions, such as "smurf juice" which consists of blue curacao, ginger ale, and white wine.
Though not quite a spritzer for its lack of fizz, sangria is another very viable solution for your bad wine problem.
Not limited exclusively to white wine, sangria is a combination of wine, fruit, a sweetener, and possibly even a little brandy. Served chilled, it's a surefire way to get the most bang out of your two-buck chuck, and you can make a good pot in five minutes.
Mulled wine is a common holiday drink in Europe and England, and becoming more so here in the United States. There's nothing quite like the smell of warm mulling spices to get you in the holiday spirit, and fortunately mulled wine can taste great even with cheap wine.
Having been around since medieval times, there are tons of methods by which to mull your wine, all detailed nicely here. Every method has the same basic structure: you heat wine slowly to develop flavor (not to a boil, as you don't not want to burn off the alcohol!) with a combination of mulling spices, citrus, and sugar.
The variations occur in the choice of mulling spices which always contain cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, but some recipes call for more flavors like ginger, cardamom, and even bay leaves.
Like all the other hacks, achieving mulling perfection is very much a question of taste. If you like things on the sweeter side, you're better off adding more honey. If you're a spice daredevil, maybe you're open to adding peppercorns to the brew.
The great thing about all of these hacks is you have absolutely nothing to lose. You're already stuck with a cheap, mediocre bottle of wine, so why not play around with these various options until you come up with something better? And if all else fails, don't forget that cooking with booze is a time-honored tradition and for good reason.
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