Nobody’s Perfect. Especially This Drink.

Nobody's PerfectNobody’s Perfect by Donald E. Westlake

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder novels are really all equally funny and surprising. if you haven’t read them, you have many hours of smart, witty, lighthearted reading ahead.

But what to drink with them, you ask? Well, here’s the thing: the characters in the Dortmunder series (a bunch of sometimes-bumbling, sometimes-competent criminals, much like you’d find in any workplace, only this is a New York-based crime ring), always meet in a bar to plan their next scheme. One trademark of the bar scenes is that the other patrons are always having inane bar-like conversations. (“The idea behind the flat tax is that everybody pays one month’s rent,” for instance) and the bartender knows all the members of the crime ring by their drink orders. “Beer and salt” is one, and “red wine and vodka” is another.

That’s right. Red wine and vodka. The drink of choice of Tiny Bulcher, the thug of the group. He calls himself the “smash and carry man.” In this novel he even explains why he drinks such a thing: “Why not? Gives the vodka a little taste, gives the wine a little body.”

So, dear reader. In the name of research, I made myself a wine and vodka tonight. I bought a bottle of pretty decent screw top red (Our Daily Red, a California table wine) and got out whatever vodka was nearest (Elemental, made from Oregon wheat).

Now, before I started this experiment, I’d only thought of Tiny’s wine and vodka as a funny, lowbrow drink. But once I was standing over my wine glass and pouring in vodka, I thought, “Oh, no. This is a drink for alcoholics. This is what you drink when you don’t want anyone to know how much you’re drinking.”

Because in spite of Westlake’s description of the drink as looking like flat cherry soda, it just looks like red wine–no matter how much vodka you add.

And the correct ratio, I determined, after much experimenting, is 4 to 1 in favor of the wine. Any less than that and the vodka does no good, any more than that and it starts to taste weird.

My husband suggested that I point out that this 4 to 1 ratio works out to 1 six-ounce glass of wine and a 1.5 oz shot of vodka. “If people are going to order it in a bar, that’s how they’d order it,” he explained. “A glass of wine and a shot of vodka.”

But no one is going to order this in a bar. You are not going to order this in a bar. Promise me you won’t.

Drink it if you must, but if you’d like a better combination of wine and spirits, try one of these:

4 oz Lillet Blanc (a delightful French aperitif wine laced with orange liqueur and quinine)

A splash (decide for yourself what that means) of gin.

Pour both into a glass over ice and stir vigorously.

An alternative: Lillet Rouge (the red version) and a dollop of bourbon.

Seriously. Those are good. Red wine and vodka is not. I’m going to worry about you if you sit around at home and drink red wine and vodka.

Wait, here’s another wine and spirits recipe–a French 75! Why didn’t I think of that one first? Here’s the proper old-fashioned version of this drink:

1.5 oz gin
1 tsp sugar or simple syrup
Juice of half a lemon

Shake over ice and strain into a Collins glass filled with cracked ice. Top with Champagne.

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