When making a Sazerac cocktail, one of the first steps is to “rinse” the rocks glass with absinthe — to swirl the spirit around the glass to coat the inside — before adding the whiskey cocktail. This process, called “spirit washing,” can also be applied to wine. A swish and dump of an aromatic spirit before pouring wine can enhance its flavor.
Chicago’s Maple and Ash uses the practice as an off-menu start to conversations with interested guests. “We like to do something special for a customer,” head bartender Mario Flores says. Even servers will perform the swirl and toss as a theatrical tableside presentation for guests.
Flores suggests choosing matching — rather than contrasting — flavors of the spirit and the wine. His favorite pairings are gins and white wines. A botanical-heavy gin, such as Monkey 47, pairs well with an earthy white, like a chardonnay.
“White wines are more forgiving. With reds, you have to be more careful,” he explains. A complex spirit such as Scotch can be difficult to pair with a red wine.
The practice can easily be experimented with at home, Flores says. The technique only uses a quarter ounce of a spirit and a couple ounces of wine to achieve the flavor profile, so botching a pairing isn’t the end of the world.
To try this at home, grab a bottle of gin and invite friends to bring a favorite white wine to sip and swirl. If the pairings don’t work, at least everyone has their favorite to drink. And hey, no one will even mind, because they’re getting their glass of wine a day.