Bartender, Bubbly Please

by Liz Caskey on November 5, 2009


Recently, I got together with a group of gringa girlfriends in Santiago for girl’s night. We decided to scout a Mexican bar in the Plaza Ñuñoa, one of the city’s epicenters of bars. The motive? Some girl talk (read: therapy) while throwing down some Margaritas. It all seemed pretty innocent…until those lethal margaritas appeared. Loaded and packing a serious punch, they were deliciously limey and acidic with the salty rim setting off the tequila. At first sip, my body was floored, “whoa baby, too much booze”, but the yummy sweet-sour taste hid the tequila and ended up winning. One-and-a-half margaritas and two hours later, we left the bar, and I don’t really remember the entire sequence of how I made it home. The next morning, the worst hang over in years ensued, all my own doing. I couldn’t help but wonder though what was up. How could I be hung over from one (albeit loaded) margi? What was in that “innocent” cup? Had I totally lost my tolerance for alcohol?

I began to mentally review my consumption of hard liquor over the past two years. Effectively, I was drinking almost zilch. In fact, I remembered the half full bottle of vodka still parked in my freezer from last year’s birthday party. Yep, I officially had been converted into a moderate wine consumer. My switch from cocktails to wine was somewhat slow and steady. The drink that pushed out my classic cocktail, a dry vodkatini (two olives please), was bubbly. On my travels in France, Argentina, and Uruguay, I loved to sip it before dinner, for celebrations, or even with the main course.

Instead of shutting down my palate with sugary fufu drinks, sparkling wines and champagne opened my appetite and cleaned my palate. Dry, crisp, toasty, sometimes clean and fruity, they all were lip smacking yummy. I experimented with all types: Brut, Extra Brut, Nature, Vintage and Non-Vintage, Prosecco, Cava, every time the opportunity presented itself. The acidity, bubbles, and delicate flavors were refreshing and didn’t kill my tastebuds. Bubbly turned into my ally for enjoying food and not kicking me in the head afterwards.

I also should add that my migration towards sparkling wines coincided with a period when I was working out more, eating super healthy, getting in shape, and not having much desire of putting any poisonous substances in my body (and hard liquor definitely qualified as such). If I was so conscious of what I was eating and avoiding caloric bombs (nothing processed or overly heavy), then my tendency in drinks had followed the same line. My margarita encounter completely underscored this fact.

Interestingly enough, I just read an article that the consumption of (dry) sparkling wines in Chile has grown 10% in the last year. Awesome; finally! In the past, Chileans have always consumed sweet Demi-Sec wines primarily for Christmas and New Year’s, usually mixed with (ick!) pineapple sorbet. In fact, the pickings once-upon-a-time were so slim that I used to stock up on sparkling wine on my trips to Argentina (recommendable bubblies: Cruzat, Casa Boher, and Baron B.). However, now that the Chilean market is opening, I can drink lovely dry ones like Cono Sur’s Brut, Miguel Torres Brut, and Valdivieso to name a few. Pondering why this trend is happening now, I definitely see it related to the sophistication of Chileans’ taste in wines, an increasing consciousness of health and calories, and a younger generation interested in experimenting with new “cocktails” (apparently Red Bull and Brut is now popular in the clubs, hmm). I sincerely hope it is not just a fad since many wineries are exploring new southern valleys to make drier wines. Hoorah!

I will admit to still getting seduced on occasion by a mojito in the summer (easy on the rum), or a very soft dirty martini but in general, I will always go for the sparklers. My palate adores it, my body thanks me, and the best part? I know how to get home after having a couple drinks.

Translated and adapted from Placeres column, October 2009.

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