How to make the perfect Manhattan at home

I love to drink good wine and in recent years (mainly since moving to the US), I have become quite partial to drinking cocktails.  Whenever I am out and about I tend to order either a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned.  This article focuses on how to make the perfect Manhattan at home.

A bit of background

One of the most popular classic cocktails in the world, The Manhattan originated in New York city, although the exact place and who invented it is still up for speculation.  However it is generally agreed that it was invented in the mid 1800's.  The traditional Manhattan is made up of Rye Whisky, Italian Red Vermouth and Angostura Bitters.  Most bars will serve it in a cocktail glass with a Maraschino Cherry.

How to mix it

The standard mix is two parts Rye to one part Vermouth and a dash of bitters.

How to make it

First off you will need a cocktail shaker, but I find a large heavy glass (the kind you can buy from Ikea) works just as well since for this cocktail we mix it, not shake it.  You then need a measure, a stirrer and a strainer.  All of these can be purchased very cheaply on Amazon and the links and pictures to recommended products are listed below.  And of course you need a cocktail glass.  Fill the cocktail glass with a couple of ice cubes and tap water and let it sit on the counter chilling for a while as you make your delicious Manhattan,

Fill your large glass or cocktail shaker with plenty of ice.  Then measure out two ounces of Rye Whisky and pour that into the glass over the ice.  Then measure out one ounce of Red Vermouth and pour that in.  Then add a dash of bitters.  Mix it all up with the stirrer for a minute or two to allow some of the ice to melt and then take the strainer, put it over the glass or shaker and strain the liquid into a cocktail glass.  I never bother with a cherry - waste of space.

The color of the cocktail should be dark brown and icy cold.  Sip gently and savor the complexity and smoothness of the drink.  It is delicious pre or post dinner.

Variations on the ingredients

  1. Use Bourbon or Scotch instead of Rye - just as delicious but a slightly different flavor.
  2. Try two ounces of liquor to two ounces of Vermouth - makes it sweeter.
  3. Try Orange bitters instead of standard Angostura bitters.
  4. Try the 'reverse cocktail' (becoming trendy as people watch their alcohol unit intake) - two parts Vermouth to one part whisky.

Paraphernalia for your cocktail making

Winco Stainless Steel 3-Piece Cocktail Shaker Set, 16-Ounce



OXO SteeL Double Jigger


American Metalcraft S209 4-Prong Stainless Steel Bar Strainer


How to calculate units of alcohol

by Janine / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Many regular drinks have no idea how many actual of units of alcohol they are consuming and with the guidelines set at around 20 units per week (less for women), it is easy to find yourself well over the recommended limits after only two or three nights out on the town.

Making matters worse, wine drinkers have probably been drinking many more units than they think.  Why?  Because many red wines are now made with more alcohol.  It's not unusual to find bottles of Cabernet or Shiraz topping 14% alcohol, especially from hotter climates like Australia and Chile.

So how do you figure out how many units were in those three large glasses of wine that you enjoyed last night when you met your friends for dinner?  It's actually quite simple. Here's how you calculate it:

Step 1: Find out or guess how many mls of liquid your wine glass holds.  Tip: A small glass of wine is usually about 125 mls and a large glass is around 250 mls.

Step 2: Take a look at the wine bottle label and look for the ABV (alcohol by volume) amount.  It will usually range between 12.5% to 15%.

Step 3: Multiple the number of mls by the percentage number and divide by 1,000.

Example:  I drink one large glass of wine, which holds 250 mls of wine, and the red Aussie Shiraz that I'm drinking is 14%.  The calculation would be 250 x 14 = 3,500.  3,500/1000 = 3.5 units.

So those three large glasses of wine that you drank last night added up to a whopping 10.5 units, or half of your weekly allowance!  It's easy to see why so many people are probably drinking way more than they think they are and could be putting their health at risk.

Restaurant Wine Mark Up - Washington State Wines at Goodmans


I've had the pleasure of being back in my home town of London for a few days this week and last night went to dinner with some friends to Goodmans Restaurant in the City.  Goodmans is well regarded as a place for great steaks, great wine and a great atmosphere.  I'd been to their Covent Garden venue before and knew what to expect.  The food was very good and the wine list is extensive, but I was shocked to see the mark ups.

I pride myself on being able to pick a great value wine from any restaurant wine list, helped by my trusty Pocket Vintages guide, which I can casually refer to.  It helped me choose a 2010 Ribera del Duero Reserva for only 50GBP.  But I was more interested in the selection of wines from Washington State.  You don't often see Washington wines on London restaurant wine lists so I was pleasantly surprised.  What wasn't so pleasing were the prices.  Take a look at the chart above.

The Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon is a $12 wine at retail - on the menu here for 45GBP.  And the Canoe Ridge Merlot from Chateau Ste. Michelle costs under $15 at retail.  That works out at a seven time mark up!

Do they think that Londoners won't know when they are paying over the odds because Washington Wines availability is a relatively recent phenomenon?  Or maybe London is bouncing back from the great recession and city boys on expense accounts just don't care anymore!


Pocket Vintages Wine Guide Now Available

PV Cover

The PocketVintages Old World Edition Wine Guide is now available to purchase online for only $1.99 including FREE shipping to anywhere in the United States.

The credit card sized guide covers the France, Italy, Germany and Spain vintages from 2002 to 2011 and provides a simple way to help you find the best vintage by region.

PV Inside

Sure there are apps for that, but this handy guide can easily be pulled out of your wallet or purse and consulted whenever you are in a restaurant, wine shop or supermarket and want some help choosing between vintages.

To order your own copy of the 2014 PocketVintages wine guide, click the Paypal button below.

Wine clubs and courses

Here are a few recommended clubs and courses to delve into if you are considering learning more about wine or building up your cellar:

Sunday Times Wine Club

One of the most established clubs.  Members enjoy discounts on exclusive wines, personal recommendations and a variety of wine tastings, dinners and days out.

The Wine Society

Offers a wine storage service, themed tasting weeks, free tasting evenings, exclusive bin-end offers, access to the vintage cellar room and collection discounts.

The Wine & Food Academy

Offering a good selection of wine tasting events, cookery courses and wine tours.  Especially good for corporate events.

The Wine & Spirits Trade Club

Established in 1962 but still only has 150 members.  Organises formal tastings and social events for its members.

The Wine Society Education Trust

This is the place to get your UK wine qualifications - offering a range of wine courses from beginner to Master of Wine - excellent tutors and great for beginners and experts alike.

Wine Discovery Club

One of the oldest wine merchants introduces the club 'If you have ever wanted to be a little more adventurous in your wine choices but have been put off by daunting names and unusual grape varieties, then the Wine Discovery Club is for you' - a good way to build up your cellar with expert advice, food and wine matching tips and budget plans.

Do you know how much you drink?

Alcohol limits -do you exceed them?

That the recommended weekly alcohol allowance for men is 21 units and for women is just 14 units?

You might know that, but did you know that a typical 75 cl bottle of wine actual contains 9 units?  Many people believe that since you get 6 glasses out of a bottle, that it is only 6 units, but that is not correct.

So drinking half a bottle of wine a day is the equivalent of 31.5 units of alcohol every week, more than twice the recommended allowance for women and way above the male allowance.

It gets worse.  These recommendations are based on a typical alcohol volume of just 12%.  Many New World wines are much higher than this and Old World wines are trending to the heavier than the lighter, since this is historically what the market is drinking.

I wonder whether we will now start to see a shift towards lower alcohol wines, such as some of those produced in Germany, since we all still love to drink so much.

Wine Gift - review of UK online wine gift resources

Wine gifts are one of the most popular online gift categories and there are hundreds of wine gift websites out there offering a variety of delights for the wine drinker.  Most wine gift sites focus on selling bottles of wine rather than accessories.  In this feature, I focus on a small number of sites offering good wine accessory gifts.

My favourite is The Wine Gift Centre

The website is very clear and simple to navigate,organised by product categories such as decanting, corklifting and chilling.
Each section has a great range of products and the pictures clearly show you what you are getting.
The corklifting section offers a range of simple and professional corkscrews from £3 to almost £100 making it easy to find the right gift.
My personal favourite is the decanting section, which has a large range of beautiful wine decanters in classic styles, as well as a few quirky ones - check out the Diamond Turn Decanter at £29.95 for something really interesting!
Postage and packaging is reasonable and they will deliver almost anywhere in the world.  One word of warning - the prices listed are ex VAT so expect to see a higher bill when you come to the checkout.
Overall, 9/10

Just as good:

Fine Wine Accessories - a lovely looking website with more than 20 wine accessory categories, so surely you will be able to find an appropriate wine gift on this website?
They have some very smart silver plate and pewter wine coasters and some beautiful champagne bowls.  If you're looking for a smart wedding gift then this website is a great resource.
One of their featured products is the Clef du Vin, which apparently ages wine in seconds.  You can read more about it here.
Checkout is simple enough, with a delivery charge starting at £5.95 for the UK and you need to contact them for prices to other parts of the globe.
Overall, 9/10

Best of the rest:

WineWare - more hardcore than the rest, and possibly focused more on trade business, nevertheless it has an impressive array of wine accessories that would make great gifts.
I especially liked the wine chilling products and the range of wine pourers.
The site is not too difficult to navigate, once you get past the manufacturer selection criteria.
Overall, 7/10

Say It With Wine - a site that allows you to create your own personal label and add it to one of about 10 different wines that is then sent to your wine gift recipient.  Not technically a wine accessory I know but some people like to know about these gimmicky ideas!
Overall, 5/10

Testing wine in a restaurant

One of the biggest problems one faces is sending back a dodgy bottle of wine in a restaurant. The posher the restaurant, the harder it seems to be, especially if there is a snotty nosed Sommelier hovering over you.

So you need to be confident and understand what it is you are supposed to be doing.

Presentation of the wine
First off, the waiter should show you the label to double check that it is indeed the wine you ordered off the menu.  Beware! Some restaurants will not bother to update their menus and thus a 2000 Medoc that you ordered (an excellent vintage according to PV) may be substituted for a 2001 (good but not as good).  Send it back if you are unhappy or choose something else!

Opening the wine
The waiter should then open the bottle in front of you.  That way, you know you're getting a fresh bottle and not the dregs of the last few departed tables, passed off as your quality bottle of vino.  If the waiter brings the bottle already opened then I would advise getting out of the restaurant, but by that point it is probably too late so you're stuck there.

Smelling the wine
Swirl the wine around the glass and take a deep sniff.  You will be able to tell that the wine is off from the smell alone.  The taste will merely confirm the matter.
If the wine is corked, then it will smell musty and dank, a bit like damp rolled up newspaper.  Some people report a 'foxy' or 'earthy' unpleasant smell.  Technically a 'corked' wine is one that has been spoilt by cork contaminated by "Trichloranisol" (otherwise known as TCA).  To you, the wine will probably just smell 'wrong'.

Tasting the wine
Confirm your suspicions with a tentative sip.  It is highly likely that the wine will taste like the wine you used to buy in your late teens and take to other peoples barbequeues.  In other words, 'very rough'.  Acid is probably the taste you'll be left with.  In this case, don't be afraid to return the bottle and request a new one - any decent restaurant will be more than happy to oblige.

There have been reports in the past that one in ten bottles of wine can be corked so don't be surprised if it happens to you!

Serving Wine

You can add a huge amount of pleasure by ensuring that the wine you have chosen is served correctly.  First thing to consider is temperature.  Whites, reds and regions all benefit from being served at different temperatures (although it is also a matter of taste).

We will shortly be adding a temperature chart, but in the meantime, the basic rule is chill down whites and serve reds at room temperature.

Some wines will benefit from being 'allowed to breathe'.  The more complex the wine, the longer you should allow it to breathe.  A couple of hours will usually do the trick.  Rough red wines often benefit from being left to breathe for a few hours longer (and you can also chill them down to reduce the impact of the tannins).

Decanting wine will also help maximise the flavours in the wine.  Older wines with sediment should always be decanted.  Pour steadily into your chosen decanter until you see the sediment reach the bottle neck and then leave the dregs of the wine in the bottle.  There is nothing worse than getting a mouth full of sediment!

Wine Storage

Wine likes to be kept in dark conditions, away from direct sunlight and not bothered.  Constant moving does not do the wine any good - it prefers to be left alone to mature in peace.  It doesn't really matter what temperature you keep the wine, so long it is not very hot or very cold.  Around 16 degrees centrigrade is fine.

It is generally preferable to store wine on its side, since this will stop the corks from drying out (which then let in the air).

And when you are ready to drink your lovely wine, let it stand upright for a couple of hours and then decant it.

Keeping a record of what wine you have purchased, when you purchased it and how much it is worth, will also help for good cellar organisation.  As your collection grows, it is easy to forget what you should be drinking and when. Keeping records helps!