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9 Cool, Weird, and Wacky Wine Varieties

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Wine can get weird. When planning your next soiree, skip the conventional vino varieties and opt for a type that’s made from unconventional (or straight-up wacky) ingredients or a unique hue. Sip on some inspiration below.



Located in West Sussex, England, the small, family-run Lurgashall Winery produces wines, spirits, and meads from fruit and natural ingredients like birch sap, brambles, honey, and walnuts. The Royal National Rose Society, a specialist plant society in England that focuses on rose care and cultivation, commissioned Lurgashall to make a rose wine from handpicked flower petals. The pink-hued vintage is reportedly aromatic and medium-dry. No word, however, on whether it tastes as fragrant as its parent plant smells.


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In 2012, Ian Hutcheon—who then worked as manager of Tremonte Vineyard in Chile's Cachapoal Valley—merged his love of wine and astronomy: He released a Cabernet Sauvignon that was fermented in a vat with a 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite, believed to have crashed into the Atacama Desert around 6000 years ago. Fittingly, Hutcheon named the vintage "Meteorito."

Originally, Hutcheon only sold the wine at his observatory, Centro Astronomico Tagua Tagua, which he opened in 2007. “The idea behind creating the wine was to blend astronomy with winemaking, and offer the wine as an entertaining product visitors to our observatory could take home as a souvenir,” Hutcheon told The Drinks Business in 2013. But the space-inspired wine ended up garnering international attention, and wine lovers from other countries—including the U.S.—clamored to try the celestial drink for themselves.


Gik Live

Wine is typically red, white, pink, or yellow. But thanks to a start-up composed of six young Spanish entrepreneurs, we'll soon be able to drink a blue variety. The company—and its wine—is called GIK, and its founders (who have no prior wine-making experience) partnered with the University of the Basque Country and the food research department of the Basque Government to make the cerulean beverage.

Gik's wine is made from a red-and-white grape blend, with a non-calorie sweetener added to the mix. Surprisingly, its vivid hue doesn't come from dye—it reportedly is the result of a natural pigment found in grape skin, combined with indigo from the Isatis tinctoria plant. You can buy Gik online in Europe, and it's also available for pre-order in the U.S.  


Know that feeling near the end of the day, when you're not sure if you need a cup of coffee to perk up or a glass of wine to unwind? Friends Fun Wine certainly does. The Florida-based company sells different types of canned wine, including what they bill as the world's first coffee wine. Currently, it offers Cabernet Coffee Espresso and Chardonnay Coffee Cappuccino, as well as non-coffee beverages like sangria and moscato.


Not into pumpkin spice lattes? Give its alcoholic cousin—pumpkin wine—a try. Maple River Winery in Casselton, North Dakota, makes the seasonal drink from local pumpkins. According to staff, the autumnal drink is so popular that it sells out quickly each fall (hence it's not listed on their website). However, vineyard visitors can still sample other unusual flavors—including apricot, gooseberry, lilac, and strawberry-rhubarb—depending on their seasonality.


Birthday Cake Vineyards’ name gets straight to the point. The New York-based company makes wine that, according to them, tastes like birthday cake. Customers can choose among a variety of white wines that taste like strawberry shortcake, cheesecake, and cake batter, and reds flavored like coffee cake and black forest cake.


Cardinal Winery

Brave enough to eat a jalapeno pepper whole? Try drinking an entire bottle of them. Located 30 minutes north of Philadelphia, Cardinal Hollow Winery in West Point, Pennsylvania makes more than 25 different types of wine—including strawberry, blackberry, and dandelion—but one of their best-selling creations is jalapeno wine. If the idea of sipping alcohol made from fiery chili peppers seems more terrifying than tasty, you can still cook with it. Cardinal Hollow Winery recommends using it to marinate meat, sprinkle on salads, and adding it to other types of wine for an added kick.


Dogfish Head

Drinkers typically identify as either “wine” or “beer” people, but a handful of breweries have blurred this line (and confused everyone’s taste buds) by creating a variety of unique beer/wine hybrids. Brewers will add grape juice, whole grapes, and must (a blend of skins, seeds, stems, and other grape products) to their product, or ferment beer using wine yeasts.

One notable example is Dogfish Head Brewery, the craft beer heavyweight in Milton, Delaware. One of their beers, called Noble Rot, contains two white wine grapes: pinot gris and viognier grapes. (The latter are infected with a "benevolent fungus" called botrytis, a.k.a. “noble rot,” to reduce their water content and maximize their sweetness.) Another brew, Sixty-One IPA, is made with Syrah grape must. And Midas Touch is a hybrid wine/beer/mead beverage inspired by ingredients found in 2700-year-old drinking vessels that archaeologists discovered in the legendary King Midas’s tomb.


In 2012, Absolut Vodka launched Tune, a sparkling Sauvignon Blanc spiked with vodka. (It reportedly had a 14 percent ABV, which suggests that the drink had relatively little actual hard alcohol in it.) The following year, Tune was recalled in 10 states after it was discovered that the brand didn’t disclose whether the wine contained sulfates. Eventually, Tune was discontinued, but a few online retailers still appear to sell it.



In the future, humans may enjoy wine made from grapes grown in a plant growth chamber on the International Space Station. In 2015, officials announced that the commercial spacecraft SpaceX Dragon would deliver wine grape seeds to the habitable satellite on its upcoming commercial resupply mission that April. Turns out, wine grapes are perfect for space travel: they don’t require much water, they produce strong fruit, and they yield little waste.

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Courtesy New District
Say ‘Cheers’ to the Holidays With This 24-Bottle Wine Advent Calendar
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Courtesy New District

This year, eschew your one-tiny-chocolate-a-day Advent calendar and count down to Christmas the boozy way. An article on the Georgia Straight tipped us off to New District’s annual wine Advent calendars, featuring 24 full-size bottles.

Each bottle of red, white, or sparkling wine is hand-picked by the company’s wine director, with selections from nine different countries. Should you be super picky, you can even order yourself a custom calendar, though that will likely add to the already-high price point. The basic 24-bottle order costs $999 (in Canadian dollars), and if you want to upgrade from cardboard boxes to pine, that will run you $100 more.

If you can’t quite handle 24 bottles (or $999), the company is introducing a 12-bottle version this year, too. For $500, you get 12 reds, whites, rosés, and sparkling wines from various unnamed “elite wine regions.”

With both products, each bottle is numbered, so you know exactly what you should be drinking every day if you really want to be a stickler for the Advent schedule. Whether you opt for 12 or 24 bottles, the price works out to about $42 per bottle, which is somewhere in between the “I buy all my wines based on what’s on sale at Trader Joe’s” level and “I am a master sommelier” status.

If you want to drink yourself through the holiday season, act now. To make sure you receive your shipment before December 1, you’ll need to order by November 20. Get it here.

[h/t the Georgia Straight]

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Wally Gobetz, flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A Brief History of the Pickleback Shot
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Wally Gobetz, flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It's sour. It's briny. For some, it's nauseating. For others, a godsend.

It's the pickleback shot, an unusual combination of drinking whiskey and pickle brine that has quickly become a bartending staple. Case in point? Kelly Lewis, manager of New York City's popular Crocodile Lounge, estimates she sells at least 100 pickleback shots every week.

Pickleback loyalists may swear by it, but how did this peculiar pairing make its way into cocktail culture? On today's National Pickle Day, we hit the liquor history books to find out.


As internet legend has it, Reggie Cunningham, a former employee of Brooklyn dive bar Bushwick Country Club, invented the shot in March 2006. He was half bartending, half nursing a hangover with McClure's pickles, when a customer challenged him to join her in doing a shot of Old Crow bourbon whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice as a chaser. As he nostalgically tells YouTube channel Awesome Dreams, "the rest is history."

Cunningham went on to introduce the pairing to more and more customers, and the demand grew so much that he decided to charge an extra dollar per shot, just for the addition of pickle brine. After that, the mixture spread like wildfire, with bars across the world from New York to California and China to Amsterdam adding "pickleback" to their menus.


Two shot glasses topped with small pickles.

Neil Conway, flickr // CC BY 2.0

Sure, Cunningham may have named it the pickleback shot, but after reviewing mixed reports, it appears pickle juice as a chaser is hardly novel. In Texas, for example, pickle brine was paired with tequila well before Cunningham's discovery, according to Men’s Journal. And in Russia, pickles have long been used to follow vodka shots, according to an NPR report on traditional Russian cuisine.

Unfortunately, no true, Britannica-approved record of the pickleback's origin exists, like so many do for other popular drinks, from the Manhattan to the Gin Rickey; it's internet hearsay—and in this case, Cunningham's tale is on top.


Not sold yet? Sure, a pickle's most common companion is a sandwich, but the salty snack and its brine have terrific taste-masking powers.

"People who don't like the taste of whiskey love taking picklebacks because they completely cut the taste, which makes the shots very easy to drink," Lewis told Mental Floss. "Plus, they add a bit of salt, which blends nicely with the smooth flavor of Jameson."

Beyond taste masking, pickle juice is also a commonly used hangover cure, with the idea being that the salty brine will replenish electrolytes and reduce cramping. In fact, after a famed NFL "pickle juice game" in 2000, during which the Philadelphia Eagles destroyed the Dallas Cowboys in 109 degree weather (with the Eagles crediting their trainer for recommending they drink the sour juice throughout the game), studies have seemed to confirm that drinks with a vinegary base like pickle juice can help reduce or relieve muscle cramping.


While core pickleback ingredients always involve, well, pickles, each bar tends to have a signature style. For example, Lewis swears by Crocodile Lounge's mix of pickle brine and Jameson; it pairs perfectly with the bar's free savory pizza served with each drink.

For Cunningham, the "Pickleback OG," it's Old Crow and brine from McClure's pickles. And on the more daring side, rather than doing a chaser shot of pickle juice, Café Sam of Pittsburgh mixes jalapeños, homemade pickle juice, and gin together for a "hot and sour martini."

If pickles and whiskey aren't up your alley, you can still get in on the pickle-liquor movement with one of the newer adaptations, including a "beet pickleback" or—gulp!—the pickled-egg and Jägermeister shot, also known as an Eggermeister.


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