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Virginie Boone

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Sonoma, California

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Virginie Boone is a Sonoma Valley-based wine writer. She has reported on the Northern California wine scene for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and its affiliate food and wine magazine, Savor, covering breaking news as sudden as Robert Mondavi's passing and trend stories as broad as consumer confusion over the sprawling Sonoma Coast appellation. She has served as managing editor of 7x7 Magazine in San Francisco and is a longstanding travel writer for Lonely Planet and Rough Guides as well as the author of "Napa Valley and Sonoma." She earned a Master's in Journalism from Stanford University.

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Cocktail Hour: Best Books For Would-Be Mixologists Image

Everyone loves reading and drinking, right? Or maybe it’s drinking and reading. So these great books about cocktails would be perfect presents for just about anyone. You might even want to snag a few for yourself, and snuggle up to read them with a drink in hand.

“Cocktails for a Crowd”

This book by Wine Enthusiast Magazine spirits editor Kara Newman is a must-have resource for making punches, pitcher drinks and party-size batches of tiki and tropical beverages. Newman also spells out the way to go on ice, garnishes and other equipment to keep the drinks flowing at your next gathering. Additionally included are classics along the lines of the Bobby Burns (see recipe below), a strong, burly drink invented for Robert Burns Night, celebrating the Scottish poet, on Jan. 25. Newman even explains how to make a bottled version, ideal for serving to a large group. $18.95, Chronicle Books

“Dr. Cocktail: 50 Spirited Infusions to Stimulate the Mind & Body”

Alex Ott, an organic chemist and mixologist, has created cocktail menus for restaurants and bars around the world. Ott was inspired by his own brush with death in an airplane crash to write this book, which centers on the power of spirited concoctions to combat stress, boost energy, stay young, improve memory, cure hangovers, relax one’s nerves and, of course, act as aphrodisiacs and magic tinctures. Many of the drinks call for fresh fruits, vegetables, botanicals and herbs as well as chamomile, garlic, lemongrass and cinnamon to work their power. $17, Running Press

“The Drunken Botanist”

Written by New York Times best-selling author Amy Stewart, this is the book to get for the gardeners and cocktail historians in your life. A detailed exploration of the garnishes and flavorings that can naturally accent a good drink, from herbs and spices to berries, flowers and other botanicals, Stewart helps guide both how to grow all these accoutrements as well as how to use them in a range of flavorful cocktails, from The Aviation, made with violet liqueur, to a Negroni with fresh orange peel. $19.95, Algonquin Books

“Savory Cocktails”

Written by Greg Henry, author of “Savory Pies,” this is for those who prefer their drinks herbaceous, smoky and strong — his chapters are broken down by Sour, Spicy, Herbal, Umami, Bitter, Smoky, Rich and Strong categories. Within the inspiring recipes are notes on techniques and primers on how to make your own syrups, bitters, shrubs and infusions. $16.95, Ulysses Press

“Shake, Stir, Pour: Fresh Homegrown Cocktails”

Katie Loeb, a Philadelphia-based sommelier, restaurant consultant and bartender, believes that anyone who can shop, boil water, measure ingredients and operate basic kitchen equipment can make homegrown cocktails. But just in case, her book includes step-by-step photos of some of the more complicated procedures for those shaky around a shaker. Expect tips on how to make infusions of base spirits, bitters and your own limoncello. $24.99, Quarry Books

“Twenty Years Behind Bars: The Spirited Adventures of a Real Bartender”

Northern California-based bartender Jeff Burkhart likens bartending to both marathon running and psychology. In this book, he takes a look at life from both sides of the bar, providing anecdotes on encounters with George Lucas, Robert Redford and Andre Agassi, as well as useful tips on drinking and making drinks. $15, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

“Vodka Distilled: The Modern Mixologist on Vodka and Vodka Cocktails”

Renowned mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim’s book is part history, part philosophy, with plenty of recipes for the world’s most widespread — if sometimes maligned — spirit, vodka. Abou-Ganim defends vodka’s complexity and versatility with detailed ideas for cocktails, a primer on pairing with such delicacies as caviar and a list of 58 vodkas with tasting notes and character scores for each. $22.95, Surrey Books

Bobby Burns

Courtesy Kara Newman, “Cocktails for a Crowd”

Serves 8 (about 4 cups)

Ingredients

12 ounces Scotch

12 ounces sweet vermouth, such as Carpano Antica

5 ounces water

2 ounces Benedictine

8 lemon twists, for garnish

Directions

1. In a pitcher that holds at least 5 cups, combine Scotch, vermouth, water and Benedictine and stir well.

2. Using a funnel, decant into a 1-liter liquor bottle or two 750-milliliter bottles. Cap tightly and refrigerate for at least two hours, until chilled.

3. To serve, set out a bowl or wine bucket filled with ice.

4. Shake the bottle to ensure the cocktail is well mixed, then set it in the ice so it stays chilled.

5. Pour into coupe or martini glasses and garnish each drink with a lemon twist.

Top photo: Bobby Burns cocktail. Credit: Teri Lyn Fisher

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Cocktail Hour: History Gives Bloody Mary A New Take Image

An arranged marriage between vodka and tomato juice, infinitely customizable with an assortment of stalk-like accoutrements, the Bloody Mary is thought to have been created shortly after World War I. An unknown American bartender in Paris usually gets the credit for creatively availing himself of some of the first tins of tomato juice imported from the United States.

The original recipe did not contain booze. Bartender Fernand Petiot at The St. Regis New York’s King Cole Bar in 1934 added vodka to tomato juice and came up with the name. It was apparently inspired by a bar regular named Mary, left waiting for her man while nursing one of Petiot’s tomato cocktails. Bar Mary’s plight was likened to that of England’s Queen Mary I, and thus the Bloody Mary was born.

The name was considered a little racy, so Petiot improvised a new version of the Bloody Mary with gin and called it a Red Snapper. But once Smirnoff vodka took America by storm in the 1960s, making vodka more mainstream, the Bloody Mary roared again.

It has a reputation as a hangover remedy, and the Bloody Mary is abidingly good after a big night out thanks to the richness of the tomato juice, which also provides acidity. Spice comes from the traditional Tabasco, though some bartenders prefer Louisiana hot sauce, horseradish or other concoctions of their own.

Themes on the classic Bloody Mary abound, and in honor of its history, each St. Regis hotel has its own signature Bloody Mary. The luxurious Lanesborough Hotel in London, part of the St. Regis family, makes one with fresh yellow tomato juice and rosemary-infused vodka. In Kauai, the Aloha Mary is a blend of organic Hawaiian vodka, Clamato juice, wasabi, Sriracha and local guava wood-smoked sea salt, garnished with sea asparagus. For this week’s recipe, master barman Tony Abou-Ganim provides a very spicy take on the old classic, the Bloody Bull, thought to have originated in New Orleans.

Bloody Bull

Courtesy Tony Abou-Ganim, “Vodka Distilled”

Serves 1

Ingredients

2 ounces vodka, preferably one made from rye or mixed grain

2 ounces tomato juice

2 ounces beef bouillon

½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 dashes Worcestershire sauce

2 dashes Tabasco sauce

Pinch of kosher salt

Pinch of coarsely ground black pepper

Directions

1. Place all ingredients into a mixing glass.

2. Add ice and roll contents between mixing glass and shaker tin until well mixed.

3. Strain into an ice-filled Collins glass.

4. Garnish with a wedge of lemon.

Top photo: The Bloody Bull. Credit: The Lanesborough Hotel, London

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Cocktail Hour: New Players Raise The Bar For Rum Image

Americans have always loved rum, but it tends to be pigeonholed as a party drink, the base for daiquiris and Mai Tais but not serious sipping. That’s changing as better rums come out to compete with the mega-brands we know so well, and rhum agricole and cachaça, two other sugarcane-based spirits, get in on the game.

Caliche Rum

Launched in 2012 by bar/lounge mogul Rande Gerber and Roberto Serrallés of Serrallés Distillery in Puerto Rico, Caliche has taken off in a big way, selling 10,000 cases in its first year. Named for limestone found around the distillery, Caliche is a crystal-clear white rum, smooth and slightly sweet in vanilla and caramel, with hints of spice. Unlike most white rums, it’s aged much like a sherry, with four layers of separately aged rums blended into one. Serrallés recommends that Caliche be sipped over ice with a slice of lime or mixed into classic rum cocktails, its age lending more complexity to even a simple mojito or Cali Libre (rum, Coke, cream and lime wedge).

Penny Blue Mauritian Rum

A single-estate, small-batch rum aged in cognac, bourbon and whisky casks, Penny Blue is a new addition to the lineup from Medine Distillery, which also has produced the popular Pink Pigeon rum since 1926. For Pink Pigeon, Medine distills sugarcane and then infuses it with hand-pollinated, handpicked bourbon vanilla from nearby rainforests, later adding orange peel for freshness. Penny Blue is the aged version, named for the world’s rarest stamp — the 1847 “Penny Blue” from Mauritius, which sold for $1.4 million at auction in 1994.

Phraya Rum

The most amazing thing about Phraya — other than the gorgeous gold adorning the bottle — is that it comes from Thailand, not a place usually associated with rum. Phraya alone may change that. It is an exceptional spirit, based on sugarcane from Nakhon Pathom province, in the center of the country. Aged in fired oak barrels for seven to 12 years, the rum is dark and exotically spicy, like Thai cuisine, rich in vanilla, honey and coconut and just right for sipping all night long.

Sagatiba Cachaça

Often called Brazilian rum, cachaça is made from sugarcane juice rather than molasses, using hand-cut sugarcane that is then fermented and distilled without additives, meaning that it’s usually pretty clear. It’s become a hot ticket in the United States, a smooth drink with the kind of herbal and botanical nuances that entice lovers of gin. It can also be aged, two to three years typically, bringing out the spirit’s darker, butternut squash and plantain notes. Aged cachaças are often enjoyed neat or as a chilled shot; the unaged go better in mixed drinks like the classic caipirinha below.

St. George California Agricole Sugarcane Rum

Made entirely from rare California-grown sugarcane, St. George’s agricole rum is akin to a sugarcane wine or eau-de-vie because of the way it is fermented. With a base of fresh sugarcane juice, it’s grassy, earthy and less sweet than rums made from molasses.

Sagatiba Pura Caipirinha

Courtesy of Campari America

Serves 1

Ingredients

Half a fresh lime, cut into wedges

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

2½ ounces Sagatiba Pura or other cachaça

Directions

1. Squeeze and drop lime wedges into a rocks glass.

2. Add sugar and muddle.

3. Add cachaça, fill with ice cubes and stir.

Note

You can get creative and replace lime with any fresh fruit for a unique twist on the classic caipirinha.

Top photo: Sagatiba Pura Caipirinha. Credit: Courtesy of Campari America

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Cocktail Hour: What To Drink? Check Your Garden Image

Your backyard garden is a treasure trove of inspiration for creative cocktails that don’t take hours of infusing or scouring for obscure ingredients known last to pre-Prohibition times.

Follow the lead of restaurants and bars like the Forty Four bar at the Royalton Hotel in New York, currently featuring a garden-to-glass cocktail menu of fruit, herb and veggie-based drinks.

The Royalton’s drinks include the Down and Dirty Rosie, a mix of rosemary-infused Absolut vodka, spicy pickle brine and sriracha bitters served in a coupe and garnished with a house-pickled cornichon.

To get started you need only a few items — fresh fruit, herbs, limes, a muddler and Cointreau, a fantastic summer alternative to rum or vodka. Cointreau works well as a base spirit for your garden cocktails, as it adds a balanced amount of sweetness and its natural orange flavor is a smooth complement to the fruits and herbs found in your summer garden.

Cointreau cocktail and spirits expert Kyle Ford has many other ideas for what to do with the elixir, including the Cucumber-Mint Rickey featured below.

Cucumber-Mint Rickey

Courtesy of Kyle Ford, Ford Mixology Lab

Serves 1

Ingredients

2 ounces Cointreau

1 ounce fresh lime juice

3 to 4 ounces club soda

4 slices cucumber

5 mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish

Directions

1. Muddle 3 slices of cucumber and the mint  leaves in the bottom of a highball glass.

2. Add the remaining ingredients with ice.

3. Stir briefly.

4. Garnish with a slice of cucumber and mint sprig.

 

Top photo: Cucumber-Mint Rickey. Courtesy of Couintreau

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Cocktail Hour: A New Wave of Hawaiian Spirits Image

Hawaii has always had a cocktail culture — as evidenced by such drinks like the Mai Tai, Piña Colada and Blue Hawaiian — but one based not as much on quality as on packing a colorful and potent punch.

To many mainlanders, that’s because Hawaii is for them vacationland, a place to enjoy the mildly tropical weather and have drinks served in coconut shells with a tiny umbrella. It’s an image of Hawaii that dates to when Elvis was alive, thin and young.

But just as with food, the attitude toward Hawaiian spirits is slowly beginning to change in the islands. As chefs like Ed Kenney of the restaurant Town in Honolulu have shown, there is a way to please diners by emphasizing locally raised greens and meats rather than the traditional gravy-covered mounds of rice.

And small distillers are starting to make better rums, vodkas and other spirits from local ingredients, accenting a sense of history by reclaiming former sugarcane and pineapple plantations.

Ocean Organic Vodka is one of them, a multigenerational family-run, 80-acre farm and distillery on Maui making vodka out of sugarcane.

Kyle and Diana Smith and their kids Shay and Sye were looking for a way to bring sustainable agriculture to Hawaii and make a non-perishable product. Cocktail aficionados who love to experiment, they settled on vodka, the base of their favorite martinis and more.

To make the vodka, they source seawater that originates 3,000 feet below Hawaii’s Big Island and surfaces near the Kona Coast. High in potassium, calcium and magnesium, the water is then purified and desalinated through reverse osmosis and mixed with fermented sugar cane that they grow.

The result is a crisp, clean-drinking spirit subtle in high-toned citrus notes. Open for tours, Ocean Vodka plans to expand into making rum and whiskeys in the coming years.

Haleakala Distillers is also on Maui, a craft rum distillery run by Jim and Leslie Sargent that makes dark rum, gold rum, 155-proof “Extreme” rum, pineapple-flavored rum and Okolehao. That’s a spirit made from ti root, a Hawaiian herb that Sargent says reminds some people of amaretto, and it goes into a drink called Leilani’s Tsunami, blended with passionfruit, orange, guava and lime juices and Sprite over ice.

A few ‘back’ stories on Hawaiian spirits

Father-son team Maui Distillers produce Old Lahaina Rum in an old sugar mill in the town of Paia. Driven by frustration over the fact that most “Hawaiian” rums were made on the mainland, they were able to source a special molasses from Maui’s Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar, the last operating sugar plantation in Hawaii. Maui Distillers launched in 2004, becoming the first distillery on Maui in 20 years, making dark, silver and gold rums.

Haliimaile Distilling Company is another Maui vodka maker, producing small batches from extra-sweet Maui pineapples, while Maui Brewing founder Garrett Marrero is expanding his brewery in the central part of Maui to soon distill bourbon and spirits based on local breadfruit.

And there’s Kauai, where it is believed Captain James Cook was accompanied by barrels of rum when he first made landfall in 1778. It is the home of Koloa Rum Company, the first and only licensed distillery on the island. Koloa Rum was named for a once-vibrant sugar plantation and mill. Now it is growing its own sugarcane and experimenting with using fresh-pressed cane juice instead of processed sugar. Koloa is devoted to single-batch white, gold, dark and spice rums; its spice rum is rated highly by F. Paul Pacult’s “Spirit Journal” and others. Koloa runs a tasting room and company store from its historic Kilohana Plantation location.

Aloha Mary

Courtesy of Ocean Vodka

Serves 1

Ingredients

2 ounces vodka (for example, Ocean Vodka)

3 ounces tomato juice

½ ounces fresh lemon juice

3 dashes Worcestershire Sauce

2 drops Tabasco

Directions

1. Pour ingredients into shaker over ice.

2. Shake vigorously and pour in a tall glass.

3. Salt and pepper to taste, garnish with fresh vegetables.

Top photo: Aloha Mary. Credit: Jessica Pearl

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Cocktail Hour: Reinventing The Strawberry Margarita Image

Everybody loves strawberries, to eat or even to drink. And their appeal in cocktails goes beyond the ever-popular strawberry margarita.

“Strawberries lend themselves to a wide variety of people,” says Davin Affrunti, bar director of Prospect restaurant in San Francisco. “And they can be used with any spirit, especially for brunch, they’re so refreshing.”

Prospect sources strawberries from Dirty Girl Farms, a 40-acre, certified organic farm near the town of Santa Cruz, for several of its dishes. In fact, it was the restaurant’s chef who reached out to see if Affrunti might like some too.

Affrunti experiments with other seasonal ingredients and spirits to come up with strawberry-based cocktails.

“With a strawberry margarita, drinkers may have only one thing on their mind, but we want to balance the sweetness out a little by using simple syrup instead of triple sec, and giving it a bit of spice.”

The Road to Rosarito is the result: a crisp, clean, approachable drink that packs just the slightest punch, thanks to the spice adorning the rim.

Road to Rosarito

Courtesy Davin Affrunti, Prospect, San Francisco

Serves 1

Ingredients

For the garnish:

Ground dehydrated strawberries

Kosher salt

Sugar

Tajín chili (a seasoning from Mexico comprised traditionally of Mexican chilies, salt and lime)

For the cocktail:

2 ounces 100% agave silver (blanco) tequila

½ ounce simple syrup

1 ounce fresh strawberry juice (preferably from Dirty Girl strawberries)

1 fresh strawberry

Directions

1. Blend equal parts crushed and ground dehydrated strawberry, salt, sugar and Tajín chili. Wet the rim of a rock or old-fashioned glass and dip into the chili-salt-strawberry mix.

2. Shake and double-strain the tequila, simple syrup and strawberry juice into the glass.

3. Add a strawberry for garnish on the rim.

Top photo: Road to Rosarito cocktail. Credit: Courtesy of Prospect restaurant

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