Blackberry cooler (photo courtesy FreidaFroo.Wordpress.com).  A peach wine cooler (here’s the recipe from TasteOfHome.com).  Watermelon cooler with green tea and white wine (photo courtesy Serendipitea.com).  Commercial wine coolers: the lowest common denominator (photo courtesy Majestic Brands).
WHAT’S A COOLER?
Short for wine cooler, a cooler is a tall drink typically made with wine, fruit juice and soda water (you can use any glasses you have).
It’s a less complex relative of sangria. Don’t like wine? Try the latest cooler incarnation, the beer cooler.
Modern coolers are refreshing summer drinks that trace their ancestry to hot-weather countries in ancient times.
HISTORY OF THE WINE COOLER
Wine-based drinks have long existed in the Mediterranean, the birthplace of wine. The earliest archaeological evidence of wine production found to date has been in Georgia (c. 6000 B.C.E.), Iran (c. 5000 B.C.E.), Greece (c. 4500 B.C.E.), and Armenia (c. 4100 B.C.E.).
The wine could be drunk straight or mixed with honey, spices or other ingredients, especially by the kitchen staff of rich households and at public drinking houses for the hoi polloi. It was a less sophisticated product than today’s wine, with no sophisticated fermentation or aging techniques. Thousands of years before stoppered glass bottles were invented, wine was stored in clay jars.
Flash forward to the present: Wine coolers have been sold commercially since the early 1980s [Source]. Bartles & Jaymes, a brand of E & J Gallo Winery.
The latter makes flavors dozens of flavors, including Strawberry Daiquiri, Fuzzy Navel, Margarita and Piña Colada.
However delicious these may sound, they were formerly made with wine that Wikipedia calls “the cheapest available grade,” since most of the wine flavor in obscured by the sugar and the fruit juice. According to Lucas J. Meeker of Meeker Vineyard in Sonoma County, domestic wine coolers were largely made from a base of apple wine.
Today, many bottled wine coolers have no wine. Because of a quadrupled excise tax levied on wine beginning in 1991, most brands replaced wine with cheaper malt. Bartles & Jaymes calls their revised product line a “flavored malt cooler.”
The malt, according to Meeker, renders the result more like beer but still largely the same: “a largely flavorless base beverage is combined with flavor and color additions, then carbonated and bottled.”
WINE COOLER RECIPE TEMPLATE
Blend your own recipe to find create your signature wine cooler. To develop your recipe, use a shot glass to combine 1/3 each of wine, juice and sparkling water.
Choose one from each group:
Wine: red, rose, white
Fruit juice: cherry, cranberry, grapefruit, pineapple, etc.
Fizzy water: club soda, mineral water, seltzer, flavored seltzer (alternatively, Ginger Ale, 7-Up, Sprite)
Optional sweetener: agave, honey, simple syrup, superfine sugar
Optional: splash of fruit liqueur (adding spirits turns the drink from cooler to cocktail)
Optional garnish: berries or other fresh fruit, mint or basil leaves (tip: you can use frozen fruit, which will help keep the drink cold)
Here’s a recipe for a green tea cooler from fine tea purveyor Serendipitea:
RECIPE: GREEN TEA WATERMELON COOLER
Ingredients For 4 Tall Drinks
Seedless watermelon or 1.5 cups watermelon juice
1.5 cups dry-yet-fruity white wine*
1 cup Dragon’s Well China Green Tea (or substitute), brewed and chilled
1. PURÉE the watermelon and run it through a fine mesh sieve (yield about 1.5 cups juice).
2. WARM a teapot with a little hot water, discard, place the tea leaves in the pot, allowing heat of the pot to release the bouquet of the tea leaves.
3. HEAT water to below boiling (approximately 180°F). Steep 1 teaspoon (2.5 g/8 oz. cup) up to 3 minutes & refresh cup as desired. Vary the time according to taste with this caveat: steeping tea leaves beyond 3 minutes does not give you more flavor, only bitterness.
*Try Albariño, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Gruner Veltliner, Muscat, Pinot Gris/PinotGrigio or Sauvignon Blanc.