The Populist's Rob Corbari wins the Colorado Wine Cocktail Competition
Rob Corbari, bar manager of The Populist.
"I didn't even know that Cinsault was grown in Colorado," says Rob Corbari, bar manager at The Populist. But once he found out it was, he incorporated a wine made from the Cinsault grape into a drink that won the Colorado Wine Cocktail Competition last week at Green Russell. See also: Behind the scenes at The Populist
"That varietal, it's one of my favorites -- big, juicy, plump," Corbari says of Cinsault, a dark red grape that thrives in hot climates.
Competing mixologists were required to produce one cocktail that contained a wine made in Colorado. Corbari, who grew up in the Northwest, drew on his exposure to wines from that region to create his winning cocktail."I grew up in Eastern Oregon and Western Idaho -- there was a huge Basque community there," he says. An ethnic group from Northern Spain, the Basque people are no strangers to wine production.
"We drank kalimotxos all the time," Corbari says, referring to the famous Basque drink made of equal parts red wine and cola, over ice. In fact, the kalimotxo that Corbari enjoyed in his youth served as the inspiration for his winning cocktail, which he named the "Cinsault Motxo."
Rob Corbari behind the bar at The Populist.
Corbari was introduced to the winning wine by Michelle Cleveland of Creekside Cellars, a winery in Evergreen. "She brought me a red and a white. The red was a Cinsault blend," Corbari recalls. "I tasted her wine and really enjoyed it. I thought, 'What do I want to do with it?'
"I've had success in competitions when you kind of have a background for your cocktail," Corbari continues. "I grew up drinking kalimoxtos, but back then, the drink was just Carlo Rossi and Coke. I love that combo."
But with Colorado's burgeoning wine industry, he was no longer limited to Carlo Rossi. "The point was to promote the wine, so I thought I'd do something just a little bit more elevated than that," he says. "I found an old cola recipe, one that you'd make at a soda fountain, way back in the day."
The recipe called for orange zest, lemon zest, lime zest, vanilla bean, fresh nutmeg, fresh cinnamon and anise. "There were a lot of spices in there that played well with that wine, that had a lot of tasting notes that I was getting out of this wine," he says.
"I threw a little bit of Italian amaro in there, a little bit of lemon juice for acidity, to bump it up and kind of make your mouth water," he says. Next, he added a dash of orange bitters that he makes in-house at The Populist. He shook those ingredients and poured them over ice. Then came his soda.
"I made a soda into which I put some fresh lemon balm, lemon grass and pink peppercorns," he says, adding that he topped the drink with the soda. "It gave it a nice, herbaceous quality."
A panel of four judges, including Jensen Cummings, Kendra Anderson, Amanda Faison and Rick Reilly, declared his Cinsault Motxo the winning cocktail out of the six submitted. The other bartenders participating included Kevin Burke (Ste. Ellie), Jason Patz (Williams & Graham), Rae Raymond (Ace Eat Serve), Joe Hines (The Terminal Bar) and Adam Hodak (Green Russell).
Corbari has tended bar at the Populisst since it opened a year and a half ago. "I just want to keep building my brand the way I want to do it at the Populist," he says, "just taking it to the next level. I want to be that smiling face back there and make the Populist that fun institution on the end of Larimer."
But he'd also like to win the Colorado Wine Cocktail Competition again. Vows Corbari, "I'll defend my title next year..."
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.