The 20 Cocktails You Should Know (and Try)

There has been a rise of the celebrity bartender and the use of local fresh ingredients.  I think that’s a great thing and offers a chance to have some fun with a cocktail before we head to dinner and wine.  Most of these drinks are not designed to pair with food, but rather they are meant to be enjoyed stand alone.

Even with the explosion of cocktails and craft cocktails, they generally follow the structure of a drink listed below.  I picked 20 cocktails that can certainly be called, classic but it would be easy to argue more onto the list and I wouldn’t object.

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Beer Basics

Beer isn’t considered the classiest drink, but I have to admit after a round of golf on a warm day, it is hard to beat.  You can’t go frat party crazy when doing business golf or at an event, but many times, I’ll have a beer in place of a cocktail.  It’s a great way to hydrate a little and pace yourself for the evening.  I’ll usually switch to wine for dinner, but instead of a martini or a Manhattan, a beer is an acceptable approach. 

Beer has been brewed for thousands of years, back to the Beowulf days of mead.  This beverage has lots of variations and modifications, only limited by brewmaster creativity, but I am going to hit just the top types of beer you’ll run into (and want to taste).

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The Seven Noble Grapes

The most basic wine knowledge involves an understanding of a very limited set of what are called Noble Grapes or International Varietals.

These are the grapes that make the dominant proportion of fine wines around the world.  This is partially because these grapes are hardy enough to grow in most wine climates and they happen to make some pretty excellent juice.  Now, this set of 7 grapes is just scratching the surface of grapes used to make great wine.  We could easily add another dozen popular grapes.  Even at 20 grapes, realize that Italy alone has over 1000 indigenous grapes that are used to make wine, so it depends how far you want to extend your knowledge.   For now, it’s going to be 7 grapes.

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What Do You Do When the Host Hands You the Wine List?

One of the more uncomfortable situations is when you are at a dinner and the host hands you the wine list and asks you to pick.  This usually happens when you are the guest of honor, and even more complex, when in a foreign country.  This is fraught with risk.  It’s very easy to embarrass yourself or your host with an inappropriate selection.  The biggest risk is around getting a bottle at an acceptable price.

So, what do you do?

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The Dirty Little Secret about Sweet Wines

One of the most commonly misused words when people order wine is “Sweet”.  When wine people say a wine is sweet, they mean that there is residual sugar in the wine, in other words, not all the grape juice has been converted into alcohol.  This is a winemaker choice.  When a diner asks for sweet wine, they normally mean fruity, lots of juicy fruit on the nose and palate.

But there is a lot more to sweet wines.

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How to Tell Your Server What Kind of Wine You Want

Clearly, the easiest way to tell a server or Sommelier what type of wine you want is to point to the one that you have selected on the list. Frankly, if you can do that and be comfortable with all the wine styles, you might know more than your server.  But that isn’t always so easy and the ability to give some useful guidance can yield you a better wine and dining experience.

There are a few basic approaches to communicating your preference

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Wine List Value Plays: Riesling

Dry Rieslings

All Rieslings are sweet and Yuck!  Perhaps double yuck and don’t you know sugar kills?

That’s how a lot of people feel about Rieslings and fortunately for the rest of us, they are dead wrong.  Rieslings are made in a range of sweetness from bone dry to luscious, dessert in a glass.  I suppose it is this preconceived notion that this elegant wine is always sweet is the reason it is out of favor and following the general and unfortunate downward slide of sweeter wines.

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Accessing Great Older Wines From Great Estates

It’s a little secret of the winemaking business – the makers don’t sell all their wine from their production.  They’ll typically hold back 10-20% of their production for future release.  These sit sleeping quietly in the caves and storage areas of each of the markers sometimes for 20, 30, 50 or even more years!  I’ve seen video (unluckily I wasn’t there) of European winemakers pulling our some wines that were 100 years old and drinking great.

So the question is, be sides buying the winery, how do we access these incredible gems?

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