In Defense of the Calimocho: Red Wine and Coke, Together at Last

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I love a glass of red wine as much as anyone, but the drink certainly has its drawbacks. For starters, red wine is not particularly refreshing, and its drinkability drops considerably as the temperature rises. There’s a reason you don’t often see people reaching for the bottle of Pinot Noir at cookouts. And too much red wine can make me sluggish, so it’s not something I gravitate toward when gearing up for an extended period of drinking.

It’s in these situations when I often find myself craving a calimocho (or kalimotxo), a refreshing Spanish drink made by mixing equal parts wine and cola. I first encountered the calimocho while traveling through Madrid, when the unforgiving afternoon sun made enjoying a glass of red wine al fresco hard to rationalize.

Back then, I understood the appeal of sangria. Mixing fruit, wine and a little booze always made plenty of sense. But it was crazy to think that anyone would deliberately dilute good wine with sugary soda. It seemed like a flawed idea, but I was intrigued – if not a little skeptical – about this makeshift wine cocktail.

To my surprise, I quickly embraced the calimocho as an easy drinking and tasty option and began surreptitiously mixing them for myself at home and for curious friends, many of whom had the same reservations about the drink that I once had.

The concept might seem strange in America, but I’d argue that calimochos aren’t far removed from other common wine cocktails like mimosas, sangrias or spritzers. The idea with all of these cocktails is to make wine more sessionable, or to turn a cheap bottle into something palatable.

The big difference with the calimocho is the use of cola, and that’s likely the part of the drink that’s most off putting. But the flavor actually works, and works well. The fruit and spicy notes of the wine complement the sweet and caramel flavors of the cola. The wine takes the edge off the sugary soda, and the caffeine from the cola gives a little energy boost to combat wine-induced drowsiness. It’s a flavor combination similar in some ways to the flavor of a cherry cola or Dr. Pepper.

Efficiency is another big part of the calimocho’s appeal. Unlike sangria, calimochos are cheap and involve very little prep work. There’s no need to cut, puree or juice any fruit. No extra expensive alcohol is needed. All it takes is an inexpensive bottle of wine, such as a Spanish Tempranillo, and some soda. Adding a slice of lemon or splash of bitters is about as fancy as you can get. You can also swap out Coke with lemon-lime soda for a “tinto de verano,” which literally translates to “summer red wine” in Spanish.

Even though virtually every bar and restaurant will have the right ingredients, it’s still hard to find calimochos on menus in the United States. Spanish restaurants are generally good bets, but ask bartenders to make one at your own risk. Your best bet is to take a do-it-yourself approach. In less than five minutes and for around $10, you’ll have a way to enjoy your red wine while also staying relatively cool and hydrated.

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