What do you do with a shitty holiday bottle of red wine?
You know what I’m talking about: that odd and bitter cabernet sauvignon your uncle presented at Christmas dinner, or the tote bag of Two-Buck Chuck your cousin brought to Friendsgiving as a gag. There’s nothing wrong with a cheap bottle of wine, but there’s a difference between cheap and outright bad. Sometimes, you just get the feeling that an indiscriminate red blend won’t be so fun to sip on. Even worse is opening a bottle with good intentions, only to realize that you really don’t want a second glass.
Regardless of provenance or quality, it’s a minor tragedy to throw away wine or let it oxidize to death in the fridge while you make excuses and avoid drinking it — I mean, it’s perfectly good alcohol, after all. The answer lies not merely in avoiding shitty wine, but elevating it through the addition of some clever mixers. There’s nothing original about this; people have been mixing terrible wine with all manner of things for thousands of years.
But my favorite ways to use up mediocre wine sound like they shouldn’t work at all. And that’s exactly what makes them such intriguing, crowd-pleasing drinks.
Credit for my favorite belongs to some pragmatic pioneers in the Basque region of Spain. Legend says that the drink became a hit on a sweltering August day in 1972, at the Saint Nicholas festival in the town of Getxo. Whether because of the heat or simply poor storage, the red wine supplied for the festival tasted off — and so the organizers turned to American Coca-Cola, by then a popular soft drink in Spain, as a refreshing mixer. It’s not the first time the combination was served, but pouring it for the masses at the festival kick-started a trend. They named the cocktail kalimotxo (pronounced cahlee-motcho), although it’s known by other monikers elsewhere around the world: Jote in Chile, motorină in Romania or houba in the Czech Republic.
I learned about it in college a decade ago from a Spanish dude who insisted I use glass-bottled Mexican Coke, and I’ve been stanning the stuff ever since. All it takes is mixing Coke and red wine over some ice. Other people swear by the stuff, too:
And if you need a warm alternative to ice-cold kalimotxo? The easy solution would be to make mulled wine, but I’m far more fascinated by the existence of red wine hot chocolate. There is no question that red wine pairs well with chocolate; it’s perhaps the most elegant flavor combination to end any meal. Still, pouring shitty red into a mug of hot chocolate sounds like a mistake you make in the kitchen after too many weed edibles. How on Earth does it actually taste so good?
I understand if both of these ideas make you shudder; the belief that red wine, even bad bottles, shouldn’t be adulterated is a longstanding bias among more, errrr, principled drinkers. Regardless, it’s always fun to discover that a drink can be more than the sum of its parts, and both kalimotxo and red wine hot chocolate are irresistible to me because of how surprising they are. I guarantee you’ll provoke and intrigue people by serving (or just suggesting) that they use red wine in these ways.
Even if you don’t have a crappy bottle hanging around the house this winter, consider picking up a $7 bottle and testing it out.
The Best Cheap Red Wine Cocktail ‘Recipes’
Kalimotxo: Fill your favorite glass with ice, then pour in a 50-50 mix of red wine and Coke (the Mexican stuff if you can source it). I prefer a strong, dry red like a cabernet sauvignon or syrah, but sweeter varieties can create some interesting results. If you swap out the Coke for lemon-lime soda, it becomes a tinto de verano.
Red Wine Hot Chocolate: Prepare a mug of your favorite hot chocolate. You ought to make it from scratch if you have milk and good chocolate, though there’s nothing wrong with a powdered mix. Add a glug or two of dry red wine (about three ounces), and a pinch of cinnamon and grated nutmeg. Then cap with whipped cream or marshmallows if you want.
I’m not a fan of winter’s short days and long nights, but I’m glad to have these two eminently sippable drinks to keep me company as I unwind.