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Like the rest of Wine Country cuisine, the cool, refreshing cocktails of summer find their inspiration in the garden.

In these seasonal concoctions, distilled spirits flirt with fragrant mint and basil, sweet watermelon and tomatoes, while staying true to their longtime partners, the sharply tart lemon and lime.

"In summertime, I always look to our gardener for any cues," said Pam Bushling, who has been mixing cocktails at Madrona Manor in Healdsburg for the past two years. "More and more, people are coming by for a cocktail and a bite on the front porch."

At Mateo's Cocina Latina in Healdsburg, bar manager Sean Dal Colletto works primarily with tequila and mezcal to produce seasonal margaritas from a bounty of local fruits and vegetables.

"We have so much growing around here," he said. "In the winter, we do blood orange and Meyer lemon margaritas, then it's nice to transition."

Currently, Dal Coletto is making a savory margarita, El Jardin, using heirloom cherry tomatoes, daikon radish sprouts, lemon cucumber, fresh lime juice, agave nectar and Arette Blanco tequila.

"It's pretty simple," he said. "We like the tequila to shine through, and we like you to taste everything."

Tequila hails from the Mexican state of Jalisco and is made from 100 percent blue agave, he said. Unless it is marked anejo or reposado, tequila is not aged.

"I like (non-aged) blanco tequila, because I like the agave flavor," he said. "It's like a crisp white wine."

At Madrona Manor, Bushling turns to tequila's cousin, mezcal, for a watermelon cocktail coquettishly dubbed the Lola.

"Watermelon is always a huge winner," she said. "It's just a really refreshing flavor."

Mezcal, which is produced in the state of Oaxaca, can be made from any kind of agave, she said. It picks up its smoky flavor from the mesquite used to burn the agave.

"There's variety in the flavor, and it's more complex," she said. "It almost tricks you into thinking it's spicy, because it's smoky."

For the Lola, Bushling muddles ripe watermelon in a shaker, then adds lime and balsamic vinegar, simple syrup and a splash of rose water. Then she shakes it up with ice and mezcal and strains out the seeds.

With a sprig of mint and a rim of lava salt as a garnish, the pretty cocktail resembles a slice of watermelon.

Another colorful drink inspired by the garden is Bushling's Basil Gimlet, which she garnishes with a bachelor's button flower.

"When basil is in season, it's so good," she said. "You can taste the difference when the basil hits its moment. ... It just has a nice, herbaceous flavor."

Like most bartenders, Bushling is a big fan of gin, a complex spirit made from juniper berries and a bouquet of herbs. Crisp and refreshing, it offers the perfect backdrop for hot-weather cocktails, and no two gins taste alike.

"I really like Boodles Gin," Bushling said. "Bombay Sapphire is nice, but the Boodles is drier and works better with basil."

For the gimlet, Bushling picks just the top inch of the basil stalks. She throws gin and cane syrup in with the basil, shakes it up with ice, then strains it.

For a beloved mojito, Bushling uses just the tops of the mint stalks, then adds some lime and lemon juice and a rum called Neisson Blanc Rhum Agricole, made in the French Antilles from pure cane sugar. She shakes it all up with ice, strains it, and gives it a traditional float of soda water.

"People say, 'I usually don't like mojitos, but this is great,'<TH>" she said.

At Spoonbar in Healdsburg, mixologist Cappy Sorentino spends warm summer nights shaking up Pisco Sours made with Campo de Encanto Reserve Pisco from Peru via San Francisco.

"It's a grape eau de vie, like grappa, but much better," he said.

The signature South American cocktail also includes lime and lemon juice, simple syrup, an egg white and a dash of Angostura Bitters.

One of Spoonbar's most summery cocktails is the French 75, made with sparkling wine and Uncle Val's Botanical Gin. The drink traces its name back to a 75 mm field gun from World War I.

"The legend is that there was a gentleman who loved to drink sparkling wine but wanted to add gin," Sorentino said. "So it has a kick like the field gun.

"Booze history is all very hazy," he added. "It has to be taken with a grain of salt because it occurs in dark bars."

The following three recipes are from Pamela Bushling of Madrona Manor of Healdsburg.

Lola

Makes 1 cocktail

1? ounces San Juan del Rio mezcal

1? cups watermelon

? ounces balsamic vinegar

? ounce simple syrup

— Pinch of salt

— Juice from 1 lime

Combine watermelon, lime, and salt in shaker and muddle. Add mezcal, syrup, balsamic, and ice. Shake. Strain in to rocks glass full of fresh ice with half salted rim (I use Hai Wai Kai black lava salt). Garnish with sprig of mint.

Basil Gimlet

Makes 1 cocktail

2 ounces Boodles gin

— Basil (top inch from 6 stalks)

? ounce cane syrup

3 drop of rosewater

— Juice from 1 lime

In shaker, combine basil (stem and leaves both), lime, and rosewater. Add gin and syrup. Add ice and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Double strain (using Hawthorne stainer and fine mesh strainer) into martini glass. Garnish with a bachelor button.

Mojito

Makes 1 cocktail

1? ounces eisson Blanc rhum agricole

— Sweet mint (top inch from 8 plants)

1 ounce cane syrup

— Juice from 2 limes and 1 lemon

— Mint sprig and lemon wedge, for garnish

In shaker, combine sweet mint (stem and leaves), lemon and lime juice, cane syrup, and rhum. Add ice and shake for 30 seconds. Strain into rocks glass full of ice. Top with seltzer water. Garnish with mint sprig and lime wedge.

The following two recipes are from Cappy Sorentino of Spoonbar in Healdsburg

French 75

Makes 1 cocktail

1? ounces Uncle Val's Gin

? ounce lemon juice

? ounce simple syrup

2 ounces dry sparkling wine

— Lemon twist, for garnish

Combine gin, lemon Juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Shake with ice, then strain into a Champagne glass. Add 2 ounces sparkling wine and a lemon twist.

Pisco Sour

Makes 1 cocktail

1? ounces Campo de Encanto Moscatel Pisco

1/3 ounce lemon juice

1/3 ounce lime juice

? ounce egg white

? ounce simple syrup

1 dash Angostura Bitters

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker without ice. Shake vigorously for 20 seconds. Add ice to shaker, then shake for an additional 10 seconds. Strain into a martini glass.

This recipe is from Sean Dal Colletto of Mateo's Cocina Latina in Healdsburg.

El Jardin (The Garden)

Makes 1 cocktail

2 ounces Arette Blanco tequila

1 ounce fresh lime juice

? ounce Tres Agaves agave nectar

3 thin slices of lemon cucumber

2 cherry tomatos, cut in halves(La Bonne Terre farms)

8 purple daikon radish sprouts(T

— Pinch of salt and pepper

Shake all ingredients vigorously with ice and pour into a rocks glass.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.