Zinfandel Grape, Rosemary + Gin Crush

When my friend Shawn (now famous for hating on rum) was opening his new bar Driftwood last year, he was looking for hot-shot bartenders. I’d secretly always dreamed of being a bartender, so my ears perked up one evening when he started detailing a recent interview.

“This guy said he’s the master of the three-minute cocktail. So I started counting. 1, 2, 3… all the way to 30. I was like, ‘That’s 30 seconds. If you haven’t made three drinks by now, YOU’RE FIRED!'”

And that is why I’ll never be a bartender.

Bar cocktails tend to rely on infusions, syrups, tinctures, bitters, amari, and such; all fast ways to add flavor to spirits. Just pour everything into a shaker, make a show of joggling the thing with your buff and often tattooed arms, strain it into a chilled glass, and voilà: you (probably) won’t get fired.

And then there’s me. Luckily, I’m not on the clock because not only am I incredibly slow at everything I do, most of my drinks start with labor-intensive (though bicep-enhancing) muddling. For this drink, grapes and rosemary get the bejeezus squished out of them for a good thirty seconds in order to extract both their juice and deep purple hue. A touch of sugar gives the drink just the right level of sweetness, and gin and lemon juice turn it into a grown-up beverage. The mixture is strained through a fine mesh sieve, which takes a bit of mashing and pressing to get out all the good stuff. The drink is stirred with ice, then strained again into ice-filled tumblers where it gets topped with a splash of fizzy water and a rosemary sprig. Sure, you could cook the grapes to extract their juice and color, and make rosemary simple syrup to have at the ready, but I like the freshness that raw ingredients add here.

I had never experienced wine grapes before, but a vintage Le Creuset baking dish full of them found their way to me from wine country via my friend Shawna (not to be confused with Shawn). Shawna brought them and a box full of plates, bowls, and silverware for me to borrow from her friend Jilla who lives on a vineyard outside of Healdsburg. The grapes were tasty on their own – complex and not too sweet – but their thick skins and big seeds made them not ideal for eating. My friend Amelia suggested using them in a beverage since they’re wine grapes and all, so I’ve been muddling them into this drink.

The piney notes of rosemary and juniper add complexity and gravitas to the sweet and mild grapes, and a shot of lemon brings the drink into balance. As a nod to the Tom Collins, I serve this over ice with a splash of fizzy water, but you could just as easily strain it into a chilled glass for something stronger.

If you don’t have wine grapes on hand, you can make this with table grapes (black for a similar color, or green or red if that’s what you’ve got) though you may want to omit the sugar and up the lemon if needed since those can be sweeter. I can’t wait to try this with Concord grapes when I can get my hands on some; I’m guessing I’ll need to reduce the amount of grapes to 1/4 or 1/3 cup since they are sweeter and stronger-tasting than other varieties.

Regardless of how labor-intensive this cocktail is, it’s still a relatively quick way to get your grapes into alcoholic form.

Because wine: that really takes a long time.

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Seasonal Sips:

Cherry Vanilla Maple Shrub
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One year ago:

Berry, Plum and Rose Sangría
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Two years ago:

Potato Salad with Green Beans and Fresh Cranberry Beans

Three years ago:

Quick Cucumber Onion Pickles

Four years ago:

Banana Rum Upside-Down Cakelets

Zinfandel Grape, Rosemary + Gin Crush

Zinfandel grapes are less sweet than table grapes, with velvety-soft floral notes and tough skins and seeds. They work brilliantly in beverages (obviously), but this drink can be made with other varieties of wine grapes, or with purple table grapes or concord grapes. Since other varieties may be sweeter, adjust the sugar and lemon juice according to your taste. (If making this with Concords, try reducing the quantity of grapes to 1/3 cup). Also feel free to dial up or down the rosemary; I found that 1 loosely packed tablespoon of fairly long needles yielded a mild woodsy taste that blended well with the gin.

Speaking of gin, we tested this with New Amsterdam, a mild and fairly inexpensive gin, as well as St. George Terroir and Botanivore, which have more assertive flavorings. We both liked the Botanivore best on first sip, with its milder, sweeter flavor, but as the ice melted we preferred the more assertively junipery flavor of the Terroir. The New Amsterdam was very mild and yielded a less complex drink that would be pleasing to sensitive palates. Feel free to experiment with your favorite gins, too (and report your findings!). I tend to prefer my cocktails served over ice with fizzy water as shown here, but feel free to serve this “up” by simply straining it into chilled glasses. I use a small shot of gin here (1 1/2 ounces), but feel free to up that to 2 ounces for more oomph.

Makes 1 drink

1/2 cup Zinfandel (or other purple-skinned) grapes
1 loosely packed tablespoon rosemary needles
1 teaspoon sugar (I use organic blonde cane sugar)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed, strained lemon juice
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) gin (such as my favorite, St. George Terroir), preferably chilled
sparkling water

In a jar or cocktail shaker, combine the grapes, rosemary, and sugar. Use a muddling stick to mash the grapes to a pulp; the more you mash, the more color you’ll extract from the skins and the more flavor will come out of the rosemary. Work in the lemon juice, then the gin. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on the solids to extract all the good stuff. Stir with ice, then strain into a glass filled with ice, and top off with a splash of sparkling water (more or less according to your taste). (Alternatively, shake the drink vigorously with ice and strain into chilled glasses for a stronger drink.)

54 thoughts on “Zinfandel Grape, Rosemary + Gin Crush”

    1. haha…a twist on sloe gin… ; ) PS: try this with lemongrass instead of rosemary! I just make a (virgin) juice of fresh grapes, lemongrass, coco water and beet juice and it blew my socks off. Grape juice is one of those things that MUST be fresh pressed, once it's cooked it's entirely something else.

    2. Sophie – love it! :) Elle, I love lemongrass, and that drink sounds superb! You're so right about grape juice – all the lovely nuances get lost with heat.

  1. I love how the grapes are so tightly clustered. And with their purple-black skins they almost look like blueberries! Gorgeous drink, photos. I'm not a gin drinker, but perhaps I'll give this a go with another spirit. Cheers!

    1. Thanks, Dawn! Yes, I'm in love with these grapes – they look so different from table grapes. I think this would be lovely with vodka in place of gin.

  2. This looks awesome! But just a note – wine grapes are actually quite a bit sweeter than table grapes, not the other way around (unless they are grapes meant for champagne, which are picked underripe). You need a lot of sugar in wine grapes to feed the yeast and convert to alcohol. I grew up tasting the grape juice from harvest every year – in Healdsburg, actually, so I'm glad to hear your grapes came from there :)

    1. How cool! Thanks a lot for the note. These particular grapes were less sweet than the table grapes I compared them to, but of course all fruits will vary. They seemed quite ripe to me, so it must just be the variety or growing conditions or something. How lovely to grow up tasting freshly crushed grape juice every year, in Healdsburg no less. I love that place.

  3. Wow that colour and those flavours! Im wild about herbs in drinks these days. …and I also want one of those soda water canister thingies :-)

  4. Homerun drink + photos, Alanna! As always. I'm with you, though–I'll never be a bartender. I made drinks at a barbecue recently and the first person I handed a drink to was finished by the time I was done making the second one… They politely told me I was "very… artistic about it." I thought that was a nice way of telling me I'm slow. :)

  5. I would totally hire you as a bartender if you made me THAT!!! Holy moly that looks incredible! Your photos are perfect and I'm having a hard time picking which one to pin. Found your blog through Foodgawker today and I love it :)

  6. The best things, flavourwise, at least, are worth the wait. I'd definitely put time on hold for a glass of this gorgeous libation. I'm actually craving one right now; is 10:13 am too early to imbibe?

    1. Never too early! I "tested" these with different gins at 11am the other morning. :) You have an open invitation to come over for cocktails any time you find yourself in San Francisco, Valerie!

  7. Nope! I couldn't handle that pressure! I'm ssoooooossoooo slow when it comes to making drinks! This is lovely though Alanna! Almost too pretty to drink. Almost!

  8. These photos are absolutely gorgeous, Alanna… totally get what you mean about secretly wanting to bartend, but I'm always intimidated to the point where I just happily settle for making a few good friends who can handle the pressure and make me nice drinks ;)

  9. I don' think I could ever be a bartender, I am too slow and too clumsy, though I know I'd love to be one, I'll end up being a liability! Each and everyone of these photographs is breathtaking!

    1. I don't know whether that would work, since grapes are a lot sweeter than wine, which is fermented. I would stick with another variety of grapes to be safe!

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