|A popular cocktail wine|
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The original cocktail wine were the oaky, buttery Chardonnays popularized by Kendall-Jackson. When red wine became fashionable after the "French Paradox" on 60 Minutes then nondescript Merlots were in. Over the last decade many of the cool kids went for the big Zinfandels.
Big Zins are the ultimate cocktail wine. They're fruity, soft, and have enough alcohol so one glass can give you a buzz just like that Rum and Coke you used to (or maybe still do) drink. These Zins are enjoyable when they hit the palate and are certainly inoffensive if the heat of the high alcohol doesn't show. And it goes down easy.
The best cocktail Zinfandels come from places like Wilson Winery or Hartford Court whereas the food Zins can be from Lytton Springs, Storybook Mountain, and the like. Actually, the two wineries mentioned here for the cocktail Zins are fairly expensive (and high quality), but often the less expensive Zins will fall into the cocktail wine category also, especially those from the Lodi area.
Wine as a food beverage is in a different style and may not be as enjoyable in the cocktail setting. These are the wines that have higher acid, maybe some tannin, some spices and other complexities. The cocktail wines don't usually match well with food and don't belong in a wine cellar as they probably won't improve with age.
So when you buy decide on the likely setting for the wine.