A little spritzer never hurt any wine

Last weekend I was stuck in a seemingly unending line for the lone bar at an afternoon garden party. The midday sun was so oppressive it felt like my linen suit was in need of an inhaler.

To pass the time and remain conscious, I thought about what I would order to quench my thirst — if I ever reached my destination.

“Be smart; start with water,” I counseled myself. “I’ll be more gregarious if I have something stronger,” another part of me countered.

I needed one free hand for greetings, so carrying around two drinks would be impractical. And there was no way I was going to suffer through the line again anytime soon. 

“White wine,” I decided. “Refreshing and uplifting.”

When I finally reached the front of the line and laid eyes on the only two whites available, I was both angry and sad. I was familiar with my options, both better suited to clean windows than ingest. 

“White wine … spritzer, please,” I ordered.

As I stepped away from the bar and downed half the drink, I passed an acquaintance and her date. 

“Wow. You’re a wine snob and you’re drinking a spritzer?” she said. “I thought mixing wine with anything was a no-no.”

“It takes a real man to have the courage to order one of those,” her date added. 

Not yet having the energy or desire to engage in a long conversation, I laughed it off and kept walking. The exchange was an unexpected reminder of the real and unfair stigma of the spritzer. It’s time to set the record straight.

The word “spritzer” comes from the German spritzen, which means “spatter, squirt, spray, sprinkle,” i.e., adding water and thus diluting the wine so that it can be consumed in larger, thirst-quenching amounts. The drink, in its simplest form of wine and water, was invented by the Romans, who thought quaffing undiluted wine was foolish and barbaric. (Note: I’m pretty sure there were some “real men” in the ancient Roman ranks.) Modern-day recipes differ on the call for wine and the addition of an effervescent. With that formula as a foundation, additives like fruit juices and liqueurs make for a wide range of variations.

All wines (white, pink and red) of any quality can get spritzed, but that doesn’t mean they should. Generally speaking, off-putting characteristics of lesser-quality wines can be masked by carbonation and ice. Average-to-good-quality wines may lose some subtle nuances but will maintain their personality and integrity. Expensive or classic wines will make a great spritzer, but diluting them would be imprudent and unnecessarily decadent. That said, if money were not a consideration, I wouldn’t hesitate to make my spritzers with the finest French Burgundies.

When it comes to choosing varietals and styles, I prefer white grapes. Chardonnays are fine, but avoid oaky and buttery expressions in favor of more fruit-forward, acidic ones. Traditionally sweeter varietals like Riesling are easily overwhelmed because they lack tannic structure. I prefer Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Viognier. Rose wines make equally compelling spritzers.

I am a traditionalist and believe fruit juice and liqueurs entirely distort individual attributes of wine. Here is the recipe I recommend:

• 3 parts wine

• 1 part club soda

• ice — 1⁄2  of whatever glass you are using

Use a wine glass, not a cocktail glass, so you can still appreciate the nose and color of the grape. Refrain from garnishes like berries, fruit slices, melon balls or herb sprigs. They may look pretty, but they often create unintended, uncomplementary flavor combinations.

Make yourself a spritzer or three to beat the heat this summer while staying hydrated and happy.

Derek M. LaVallee, director of public relations and public affairs at Kemp Goldberg Partners and a certified wine buff, can be reached at dereklavallee@hotmail.com.