Like the rest of Wine Country cuisine, the cool, refreshing cocktails of summer find their inspiration in the garden.
In these seasonal concoctions, distilled spirits flirt with fragrant mint and basil, sweet watermelon and tomatoes, while staying true to their longtime partners, the sharply tart lemon and lime.
“In summertime, I always look to our gardener for any cues,” said Pam Bushling, who has been mixing cocktails at Madrona Manor in Healdsburg for the past two years. “More and more, people are coming by for a cocktail and a bite on the front porch.”
Summer Cocktail Ideas
At Mateo's Cocina Latina in Healdsburg, bar manager Sean Dal Colletto works primarily with tequila and mezcal to produce seasonal margaritas from a bounty of local fruits and vegetables.
“We have so much growing around here,” he said. “In the winter, we do blood orange and Meyer lemon margaritas, then it's nice to transition.”
Currently, Dal Coletto is making a savory margarita, El Jardin, using heirloom cherry tomatoes, daikon radish sprouts, lemon cucumber, fresh lime juice, agave nectar and Arette Blanco tequila.
“It's pretty simple,” he said. “We like the tequila to shine through, and we like you to taste everything.”
Tequila hails from the Mexican state of Jalisco and is made from 100 percent blue agave, he said. Unless it is marked anejo or reposado, tequila is not aged.
“I like (non-aged) blanco tequila, because I like the agave flavor,” he said. “It's like a crisp white wine.”
At Madrona Manor, Bushling turns to tequila's cousin, mezcal, for a watermelon cocktail coquettishly dubbed the Lola.
“Watermelon is always a huge winner,” she said. “It's just a really refreshing flavor.”
Mezcal, which is produced in the state of Oaxaca, can be made from any kind of agave, she said. It picks up its smoky flavor from the mesquite used to burn the agave.