In my July 28 column I write about water as an ingredient that can enhance the flavors of strong spirits, cocktails, high-alcohol wines, and coffee. Added water has little or no flavor of its own, but it boosts the aroma of alcoholic drinks by diluting the alcohol and loosening its hold on aroma molecules, and makes delicate coffee aromas more noticeable.
Audrey Saunders of Pegu Club in New York has created a number of "inverted drinks" in which a spirit plays the supporting role to a lower-alcohol wine-based ingredient, rather than the usual other way around. Try her Intro to Aperol and also her Madeira Martinez, which is now one of my favorite cocktails.
Conner, J.M. et al. Headspace concentration of ethyl esters at different alcoholic strengths. J. Sci. Food Agriculture 1998, 77: 121-26.
Conner, J.M., A. Paterson and J.R. Piggott. Release of distillate flavour compounds in Scotch malt whisky. J. Sci. Food Agriculture 1999, 79: 1015-20.
Gill, V. A whisky tour. Chemistry World, December 2008, 40-44. www.rsc.org/images/whisky_tcm18-138981.pdf