Review: Vino Innovations Vino Freeze Mix

Do you like wine? Do you like Kool-Aid? Do you like Slurpees? If you said yes to all three, you’re in for a real treat (ahem): Vino Freeze Mix, which gives you the triple threat of ultra-sugary powder plus the buzz of cheap wine in a slushy frozen package.

It sounds like a joke but I assume you this is a real thing. In fact, I tried it. With my mouth.

Let’s start with what it is. Vino Freeze Mix comes a company called Old World Gourmet, so you might imagine all the Ukranian babushkas carefully harvesting the sugar, citric acid, purple carrot powder (for color), and natural flavors from the fields, then packaging it 12 ounces at a time in metallic bags and festively colored boxes to be sold in gourmet stores across the land. (A full bag of Vino Freeze Mix (10 servings) has 260 grams of sugar.)

To make your Vino Freeze — I chose the Blueberry Pomegranate flavor, but a half dozen varieties are available — you dump the bag into a pitcher, add a full bottle of “your favorite* red wine,” and another 750ml bottle of water. Stir, then freeze for 3 to 4 hours, and your wine slushy is ready.

Some problems I encountered: First, a pitcher does not promote freezing well, so you are advised to follow the “or” advice on the package and use a plastic bag to contain the concoction. In fact, my pitcher popped open in the freezer and rained Blueberry Pomegranate sleet across my fridge, which was awesome. My fault, though. Also, after 4 hours, my Vino Freeze was still mostly water. It took at least 7 hours to get anywhere near slushy status.

And once it was done, my, what a heretical beverage this was. Ungodly sweet, with a cough syrup kicker, the only thing going for this “drink” was that it was cold and the weather outside was warm. Clearly this is marketed for the daytime-drinking cougar crowd, but lord knows those tireless ladies deserve better than this.

D- / $10 per package / owgshoponline.com

* I highly recommend not using your favorite wine.

Sangria Special: New Offerings from Senor Sangria and Eppa Reviewed

Summer is in full swing, and that means sangria season is here. We’ve looked at Senor Sangria’s original red sangria in the past, now the company’s back with a white sangria. Also on tap: Red sangria from Eppa with a health-conscious spin. Here’s how these offerings from Senor Sangria (made in Washingtonville, New York) and Eppa (made in Hopland, California) stack up.

Senor Sangria Classic White – A blend of fruit juices with white wine, this is heavy on orange and lemon, and in fact it could almost pass for a flat mimosa. A bit of tropical fruit — pineapple and mango, perhaps guava — adds a little more excitement. Very mild and party friendly. 8.5% alcohol. A- / $8   senorsangria.com

Senor Sangria Classic Red - Deep red, with a big wine character to it. Fruit comes along second, deep berry-inflected notes along with some apple, orange, and maybe even some lime and grapefruit in there. Spices seem evident as well, giving this sangria the feel of a chilled, mulled wine — emphasis on the wine. I’m a touch less enamored with it now than I was when I first sampled it three years ago (as it comes across now as a little on the boozy side), but it’s still a very good sangria provided you want something a little more substantial, less sweet, in your glass. 8% alcohol. B+ / $8

Eppa SupraFruta Sangria – Organic wine blended with organic “superior fruit,” this is a milder red sangria than Senor Sangria’s red, and it’s evident the company started with a fruitier wine as its base and more of a focus on strong fruit flavors. The company says that pomegranate, blueberry, blood orange, and acai juices are used in the mix, along with various citrus juices. The pomegranate is quite prominent, with blueberry close behind. The ultimate effect is a significantly different drink, something closer to a juice blend you’d have at breakfast than with your jerk chicken. Not significantly better or worse, just different. 8% alcohol. B+ / $12   eppasangria.com

  • senor sangria
  • eppa sangria

Review: The Perfect Puree New Flavors – Chipotle Sour, Thyme & Citrus, Thai Basil & Black Pepper

The Perfect Puree is back with more high-end blended mixers, this time fruit bases blended with spices to create a combination of sweet and savory components in one cocktail. Want to recreate higher-end mixological tricks without a lot of effort? Check out one of these ready-made mixers.

Chipotle Sour – a hodgepodge of lime, orange, lemon, apple, pear, pineapple, and tangerine juice, plus chipotle flavors – very peppery on the nose and spicy as hell on the tongue, cut very light by lemon/lime/orange juice character; very much in the vein of a pre-mixed sangrita, you could use this as an avant garde Bloody Mary base. B+

Thai Basil & Black Pepper – a base of pineapple, lime, lemon, and orange, with (obviously) Thai basil and pepper atop – pineapple and basil are the most evident notes, and they work well together here, almost like a sweet and sour sauce or a very mild curry; the pepper is understated and mellow; probably my favorite of this batch. A-

Thyme & Citrus – looks like the same ingredients (lime, orange, lemon, etc.) plus thyme flavors in lieu of chipotle – very herbal on the nose, though it’s hard to pick out what herb it is exactly until you taste it; there the thyme comes through loud and clear, with lots of citrus behind it; tastes like something you’d get at a newfangled bar — I had good luck mixing it with passion fruit vodka. B+

each $25 per quart (32 oz.) / perfectpuree.com

Perfect Puree

Review: Mionetto ‘IL’ SPR!Z

I’ve written about the Aperol Spritz — often just the Spritz — before. It’s a refreshing and tasty cocktail that’s incredibly easy to make. Along with the Bellini, it’s pretty much the official cocktail of Venice, and many Italian restaurants here and abroad have adopted the Spritz in their own menus.

In Italy, you can buy premade, bottled Spritzes galore in markets. Now they’re coming to the U.S. The first is from Mionetto, a major Prosecco brand, which is launching the complex-monikered ‘IL’ SPR!Z in the U.S. We got a chance to sample it.

‘IL’ is not exactly a traditional Aperol-based Spritz but rather “premium frizzante sparkling wine, natural colors and aromas, and flavors of fresh orange and select herbs.” The effect is quite authentic, orange-heavy on the nose, lightly bitter on the finish, with touches green olive and dried herbs. It may not be quite as good as a Spritz made with genuine Aperol, but it’s definitely palatable, refreshing, and reminiscent of hot days by the Grand Canal.

Note that this is bottled with a crown-cap closure and, once opened, partial bottles can’t readily be saved. 8% alcohol by volume. Available in 750ml, 375ml, and (soon) 187ml versions.

B+ / $14 per 750ml bottle / mionettousa.com

Review: Rhum Clement Premiere Canne and Sirop de Canne

Today we take a fresh look at Rhum Clement, a Martinique-based producer of rhum agricole, which is rum made not from molasses (the norm) but of free-run sugar cane juice.  This year Clement celebrates its 125th anniversary, and it’s redesigning its packaging and adding a new product, Sirop de Canne (a bottled sugar syrup). We consider them both below.

Rhum Clement Premiere Canne - I last encountered this rum in 2008, and I find my feelings about it haven’t much changed. It’s very much like a better cachaca, fueled by gasoline character but tempered with loads of lemon, orange peel, and cut grass character. The sweetness is surprisingly mild for rum, a side effect of using sugar cane to distill the rum instead of molasses. Most rum drinkers will get knocked off the swing with this one, but enthusiasts will find real charm here. 80 proof. B+ / $35

Rhum Clement Sirop de Canne – A nonalcoholic sugar syrup the color of honey, and about the consistency of it, too. A lovely syrup, with the distinct flavor of gingerbread. Nutmeg and cloves on the back — and strong on the nose, too. Ingredients include “pure sugarcane, water, and natural aromas,” however that last bit works. Certainly not for straight consumption, but the holiday character here could really spice up a cocktail or punch. I’m into it. A- / $12

rhumclement.net

  • rhum clement Premiere Canne
  • rhum clement Sirop de Canne

Review: VnC Pre-Mixed Cocktails

Pre-mixed cocktails continue to grow in popularity. VnC, which is based in New Zealand, takes it to the ultimate conclusion: The cocktails not only have the alcohol already in them (in addition to natural juices), they’re packaged both in party size bottlings and in single serve versions, which we reviewed.

Each 200ml cocktail comes in at 14% alcohol and includes a built-in cup so you look more sophisticated than drinking out of the bottle. Woo hoo! We tasted four of the six available varieties. All are 150 calories or less per serving. Thoughts follow.

VnC Pomegranate Cosmo – Vodka, triple sec, natural flavors, pomegranate, cranberry, and lime juices. Distinctly vodka-inflected, which lends this Cosmo a bit of a cough syrup character and makes it taste boozier than it really is. A decent amount of fruit helps salvage the mix, and you can actually taste the lime juice, a nice touch. (For what it’s worth, the lady thought this was far and away her favorite.) B

VnC Margarita – Tequila, triple sec, “natural margarita flavors,” lemon, and lime juices. Tastes authentic, and unlike the Cosmo it’s very easygoing on the booziness. Sweet, with a bit of tequila kick to it, a light and credible version of a classic margie. B+

VnC Vodka Mojito – Vodka with “natural mojito flavor” and lime juice. Why would you not use rum in a mojito? White rum is one of the cheapest spirits available. Not, perhaps, cheaper than vodka, I guess. Smells better than it tastes, full of minty promise on the nose… but chalky and a bit artificial on the tongue. Leaves a lingering aftertaste. C+

VnC Pacific Breeze – Vodka with “natural MaiTai flavor,” coconut, pineapple, and lime juices. This would be far better blended with ice than a simple liquid, but as it stands it’s got that tropical flavor that you really only want when you’re sitting on the beach. Again, this would be a much better drink with rum in it, but it’s credible enough for poolside consumption in a pinch. B

each $4 per 200ml bottle / vnccocktails.com

Review: Refine Zero Calorie Mixers

Refine says it aims to “refine” the skinny cocktail with these zero-calorie mixers. Flavored with stevia, they’re available in 32 oz. bottles in three flavors.

Refine Margarita Mix – Bright yellow, looks supernatural. Tastes very tart, with lots of intense lemon/lime soda character, but with a chalkiness that recalls Crystal Light granules (thanks, I’m sure, to all the citric acid in the mix). Could be worse. B-

Refine Mojito Mix – Unthrilling, this mostly clear mixer doesn’t really recall fresh lime or mint, just a vague sweetness that could be mistaken for a flat 7-Up. Could be better. C-

Refine Cosmopolitan Mix – The bright pink color is misleading, but this mixer has surprisingly more lime character than the mojito does. After that, a touch of strawberry or raspberry, more Jolly Rancher than fresh fruit. Not unpalatable, but the chemical aftertaste is rough on this one. C

each $9 per 32 oz. bottle / refinemixers.com

refine mixers

Review: Liber & Co. Spiced Tonic Syrup

Austin-based Liber & Company trucks in a pretty narrow world: Artisinal, spiced tonic syrup.

Liber & Co. sent us samples of their new product and it’s certainly nothing like your bottle of Schweppes. A ruddy orange, and indeed a tonic syrup, not a tonic “water.” Made with crushed herbs, spices, and cinchona bark, it is filtered down to 25 microns, “the lower threshold that the human tongue can detect,” per the company, to remove particulates. Agave nectar is used for sweetening.

The results are impressive if overwhelming. Tasted alone the syrup is a gut-puncher, full of orange peel and clove character, sweet at first, then fading to bitter in the way you might expect tonic to taste. There’s a vague quinine aftertaste that reminds you what it is you’re drinking.

Naturally this is not meant to be drank solo, and I tried it in the Save the Countess cocktail recipe (below), with great results. Here the tonic syrup works well with its fellow spirits, creating a fun and balanced — if quite flavorful — cocktail. (Do not omit the grapefruit juice and shake it long and hard if you make one. A little melted ice is essential to get this down to the right booze level.)

Overall, this is a fun mixer that will make you think wildly differently about  what G&T night can be.

Currently available in Austin, Dallas, and Washington, D.C.

A- / $10 for 8 oz. bottle / liberandcompany.com

Save the Countess
3/4 oz. Spiced Tonic Syrup
1 1/4 oz. gin
1 1/4 oz. Lillet Blanc
splash grapefruit juice
2 dashes Peychaud bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

Cool Item of the Day: The Bitter Truth Cocktail Bitters Traveler’s Set

The line between a good cocktail and a great one can often be drawn with a sprinkling of bitters, staples of any serious watering hole and surely a part of any high-end home bar, too.

Traveling, however, poses a particular challenge. It’s one thing to throw a bottle of rye in the car for the trip to Tahoe. It’s another to deal with all the little things — garnishes, mixers, bitters — as well.

The Bitter Truth is at least making one of those easier with this fun “Traveler’s Set” of five miniature (20ml) bottles packed into a tin travel kit. You get Celery, Orange, Creole, Old Time Aromatic, and Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters in the mix. Not sure the Celery Bitters are essential, but the other four (sub Creole for Peychaud’s and either the Aromatic or the Jerry Thomas bitters for Angostura) cover the bitters bases of 90% of the cocktail recipes out there.

Fun stuff.

$18 / the-bitter-truth.com

bitter truth travelers set

Review: Twist Essence Water

Is bottled water less heinous if it’s flavored? Twist is lightly sweetened with agave nectar and stevia, and flavored with natural extracts, yet still claims just 0 calories. We tasted two varieties.

Twist Pomegranate Blueberry is vague in its berry allegiance, almost strawberry-like in the way it comes across. Blueberries are a bit in the distance. It’s sweeter than you’d think, but neither cloying nor gummy, the way agave-infused stuff can be. B

Twist West Indies Lime sounds awfully exotic, but the flavor is more reminiscent of Rose’s Lime Juice, a bit saccharine and lightly bitter and herbal on the finish. The lime aroma is nice, but the flavor here doesn’t come across as fully authentic, the way a margarita mix can often be. Harmless enough. C+

about $1.25 per 19 oz. bottle / drinktwist.com

  • twist pomegranate blueberry
  • twist west indies lime