By Damian Hartner, Contributing Writer

There is a fine line between Saturday night and Sunday morning. For example, it is perfectly acceptable to drink a mixed drink on Saturday night but wine seems only acceptable on Sunday morning… in church, of course… even in New York City you cannot go out and buy yourself a bottle of hard alcohol or wine before noon on a Sunday. However, stroll up 9th Avenue from about 23rd street to about 75th street and you’ll find plenty of places willing to pour you a mimosa or bellini starting at around 9am – earlier if you can show a stamp from one of the neighboring clubs you likely just stumbled out of.

But, back to the mixed drinks. The fact is that the original mixed drink was wine. The original mixologists were the French winemakers. You could argue Greek but first you would have to provide me with a bottle of Greek wine that I’d actually consider drinking. No, really, get mad and send it to me.

The French, it seems, got sick of going through the process of growing, harvesting, crushing/destemming (way before there were those cool crusher/destemmer machines), fermenting, aging, and bottling a bunch of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes only to have them taste great one year and like bidet water the next. And, so they just divided the country up into a bunch of regions and named them things like Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, Loire, Rhone, etc… and grew a bunch (pun intended) of grapes there of all different varieties. Granted, most regions have a primary grape but all of them have the “mixing” grape. This gave the leeway to mix in a slightly sweeter grape in a year where your harvest was a bit sour or vice versa. Then things got scientific when the winemaker got interested in Brix (sugar content), pH, acidity, alcohol percent, etc…

The new world wines initially ignored the old world. California grew Zinfandel. Australia and New Zealand did Sauvignon Blanc, Argentina grows Malbec, Spain grows Tempranillo and the list goes on. This left the winemaker with few choices of what to do with a bunch of sour grapes. For example, what would happen if there was a terrible growing season in California for Zinfandel… you can’t mix in Cabernet Franc if you didn’t grow any. And, so, in those early days, the winemaker would just add sugar or not include the skins and viola, the wine would sell! And, God forgive them, but that is how we ended up with “White Zinfandel”. Again, you would have to provide me with a bottle of White Zinfandel that I’d actually consider drinking. Go ahead and get mad, but, please DO NOT send me any White Zinfandel.

Alas, California has come into its own. May of the bottles produced out of Napa and Sonoma are varietals – from a single grape – from a single year. Some of them are even estate grown – meaning all the grapes came from the winery itself. Some are single vineyard – meaning that even though they weren’t all grown on the estate that they were all from one vineyard. But, there is a movement to blend up some very tasty wines to make sure there is high quality product from year to year.

The French have the AOC that ensures the purchaser/drinker of the wine that the bottle was certified by the French government as coming from that region and is made up of a majority of grapes from that region. Not too long ago, California winemakers began an informal designation to let the purchaser/drinker of the wine know that the wine is a high-quality blend of grapes from a given region. They are calling this designation “Meritage”… pronounced like “Heritage”.

So, yes, in case you were worried, now you can have your “mixed” drink and go to church too!

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