As mixology has grown in popularity—particularly among millennial consumers—so too has wine, notes Austin Hope, president and winemaker of Hope Family Wines. “There’s no question that the cocktail scene is exploding with popularity right now, but the wine scene is equally cool,” he says.
Tad Carducci, mixologist and cofounder of beverage consulting company Tippling Bros., also notices increased exposure to and interest in wine among younger consumers of legal drinking age. “Wine in general has become much more accessible to millennials, so it’s a familiar, recognizable and intriguing base for cocktails,” he says. “It engages people.”
Indeed, by adding wine to cocktails, mixologists offer a new way to enjoy a familiar beverage, appealing to a desire for enticing drinking experiences. “Consumers are already familiar with many of the wine taste profiles—more so now than ever before—so they’re curious to see how those profiles come through in a cocktail,” says Jacques Bezuidenhout, partner of San Francisco bar Forgery. “People have been drinking sangria for years, so the idea of wine in a mixed drink isn’t outlandish.”
Whether consumers are looking for a change from their usual wine drinking habits, seeking a lower-alcohol alternative to a spirits-forward drink, or simply interested in complex and unexpected drinking experiences, wine cocktails fit the bill. “Bartenders are looking everywhere now to find new and creative flavors for their drinks,” says Bezuidenhout, who’s also the brand ambassador for Partida Tequila. “Wine provides one of those avenues.”
Many mixologists and wine professionals point to drinks like the Mimosa and sangria as the introduction for most consumers to wine-based concoctions. “Traditionally, wine-based cocktails have used sparkling wine or taken the form of sangrias,” says Lou Constant, vice president of global accounts development at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. He adds that the trend among today’s consumers is to seek premium ingredients and more experimental versions of these classic wine cocktails.
This approach is apparent in Miami at the Mondrian South Beach hotel’s Momo Sushi Shack, where the sangria offerings go beyond the usual blend of red wine, brandy and fruit to offer something more unique. The Watermelon Rose Sangria ($11 a glass; $32 a carafe) features Château Minuty M rosé, Grand Marnier orange liqueur, and watermelon juice and wedges, while the Lychee Passion Sangria ($11; $32) mixes The Seeker Riesling with Hana Lychee sake, passion fruit purée and fresh lychees. At Verde, a restaurant and bar located in the Pérez Art Museum Miami, the Bayfront Sangria ($12) is made with Mionetto Organic Prosecco, Pavan liqueur, blackberries, blueberries and cantaloupe.
While the trend with sangria is to experiment with different liqueurs and styles of wine, Mimosas today feature varying types of fruit juices rather than the expected orange juice. Carducci’s Mango Mimosita ($11 at Mercadito Red Rock in Las Vegas) comprises Canals Canals Classic Brut Nature Cava, mango nectar and El Yucateco Green Chile habanero hot sauce. At the Andaz Wall Street hotel’s Dina Rata bar and bistro in New York City, the Apple Ginger Mimosa ($16) features Terrazzo Extra Dry Prosecco, apple and cranberry juices, and house-made ginger syrup.
“When you pair something familiar with something unexpected and fun, it sparks curiosity,” says Sarah Karakian, head bartender at Measure Lounge at the Langham Place Fifth Avenue hotel in New York City. “Today’s drinkers love revisiting the classics, but are willing to take a risk when it’s done right.” She says the best-selling wine cocktail at her venue is the Douro Spritz ($15), combining Fonseca Siroco White Port, Valdo Prosecco, fresh lemon juice and tarragon.
Spritzers and similar drinks are particularly popular with consumers seeking a lighter alternative to a traditional cocktail, but one that still has interesting components. “Wine-based cocktails allow people to enjoy the flavors and nuances of a cocktail without the sometimes unwanted kick of high-proof spirits,” says Malachi Topping, head mixologist and supervisor of the Thoroughbred Club at the Belmond Charleston Place hotel in Charleston, South Carolina. The bar offers three spritzer-style wine cocktails (all $30 a four-serving pitcher) that are popular with customers. The Jalapeño Basil Spritzer comprises the 2012 Avinyó Brut Reserva Cava, sliced jalapeño, basil leaves, lemon wheels, house-made sour mix, lemon-lime soda and sparkling water; the Blue Rose Spritzer features the 2012 Avinyó Brut Reserva Cava, rosemary sprigs, blueberries, simple syrup, cranberry juice and sparkling water; and the Pimm and Proper is made with the 2012 Avinyó Brut Reserva Cava, Pimm’s No. 1 liqueur, muddled lemon and mint, peach nectar, simple syrup, and peach iced tea.
“We’ve had a lot of success playing with classic Prosecco-based spritzers, inspired by the traditions in Italy and Austria,” says Mandy Oser, owner of Ardesia Wine Bar in New York City. “The key is to find a Prosecco that isn’t too sweet and then to blend it with a fruit-based liqueur and often a few splashes of bitters, with a citrus garnish.” Guest favorite the Lillet Spritz ($10), created by former manager Damon Gravina, comprises Vincenzo Toffoli Frizzante Prosecco, Lillet Blanc aperitif and The Bitter Truth Grapefruit bitters. “These drinks tend to be lower in alcohol, so they pack a lighter punch,” Oser adds.
Thanks to the sophistication of today’s mixologists, just because a wine cocktail may have lower alcohol content doesn’t mean it’s lacking in flavor or complexity. “Ste. Michelle was a part of the Shake the Vine wine cocktail competition at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail, and we saw a number of different flavors in the contestants’ cocktail entries,” Constant says. Zachary Patterson, co-owner of Los Angeles bar Melrose Umbrella Co., won the competition with his Summer Dress cocktail, mixing Red Diamond Chardonnay, Grey Goose La Poire vodka, Chareau aloe liqueur, oro blanco grapefruit, fresh lemon juice and simple syrup.
“People have always enjoyed some of the more straight-forward wine-based drinks like sangria and such sparkling cocktails as the Bellini,” says Andy Seymour, beverage educator and owner of New York City–based beverage education and consulting business Liquid Productions. “These cocktails offer dynamic flavor and are easy to drink. That said, as the world of cocktails has gotten more complex, bartenders and consumers alike are looking to elevate what they make and drink.”
One notable way mixologists create complexity in their wine cocktails is by incorporating different spirits and liqueurs into their creations. At Forgery, Bezuidenhout’s Dr. Tequila ($12) blends different spirits with wine to create multi-layered flavors: Dr. Loosen Riesling, Partida Blanco Tequila, Laphroaig 10-year-old single malt Scotch whisky, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg white. Also touting various different spirits in addition to wine, Shake the Vine competition finalist Jair Bustillos—a mixologist for Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada in Las Vegas—created A New Chateau, comprising Anew Riesling, Gran Torres orange liqueur, Azzurre vodka, lemon juice, simple syrup, muddled honeydew melon and kumquats, and mint that’s soaked in Green Chartreuse liqueur.
At Washington, D.C. restaurants Fiola and Fiola Mare, bar manager Luca Giovannini enjoys working with sparkling wine when making unique cocktails. “Guests love the fizz of sparkling wine, but they’re always looking for something special,” he says. “That’s where we bartenders find ourselves creating new concoctions to make the classic glass of sparkling wine more interesting.” At Fiola Mare, his Uno Speciale ($15) blends Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco (brand varies), Cappelletti aperitif, Tanqueray gin, Fee Brothers Peach bitters and a sugar cube, while his Bevilla ($15) features Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco (brand varies), Bols genever, Cocchi Rosa aperitif, lemon juice and house-made ginger syrup. Similarly sparkling and complex, The Wobbly Vespa ($10) at Ardesia features Vincenzo Toffoli Frizzante Prosecco, Caravella limoncello, San Polo Sangiovese and basil.
“Wine-based cocktails are constantly progressing,” says Hope of Hope Family Wines. “Take the traditional Kir Royale, which is a mixture of Champagne and crème de cassis liqueur. This age-old drink represents how simple a wine cocktail can be. But today, as mixology is in vogue, I find wine-based cocktails to be more complex, often with the incorporation of bitters, interesting syrups and botanicals.” In addition to making wines, Hope produces the 100-percent rye whiskey brand Highspire and has concocted numerous drinks that mix Hope Family wines with the spirit. The Red and Black cocktail combines Treana Red, Highspire, Gabriel Boudier Crème de Cassis de Dijon liqueur and fresh lemon juice, and the Paso Mimosa blends Treana White, Highspire, Fee Brothers Orange bitters and Zonin Brut Prosecco.
Beyond sparkling and still wines, dessert wines like Port and Sherry are finding their way onto an increasing number of cocktail menus. Liquid Productions’ Seymour notes his own inclination toward Port. “The category has so much to offer—from the lighter styles of white and pink Port as refreshing aperitifs to a ruby Port as the base of a really rich cocktail to pair with food,” he says. For Kobrand Wine & Spirits, Seymour created cocktails using Ports from the company’s portfolio. The First Wind features Fonseca Siroco, fresh cucumber juice, agave nectar, Fever-Tree tonic water and muddled cilantro, and Jack the Spy mixes Croft 10-year-old Tawny Port, Bulleit rye whiskey and Aperol aperitif.
At Measure Lounge, the Cognac Julep ($17) blends Fonseca Bin No. 27 Port with Rémy Martin 1738 Cognac, spearmint and blackberries. “As a bartender, it’s my job to cater to my guests and surprise them every once in a while,” Karakian says. “Wine-based cocktails are my go-to when someone challenges me to make them ‘something interesting.’”
The beverage menu at Forgery has a heavy focus on Sherry. The barrel-aged La Perla cocktail ($11) features Domecq Manzanilla Sherry, Partida Reposado Tequila and Mathilde Pear liqueur. In 2005, Bezuidenhout won the first-ever Vinos de Jerez Sherry Cocktail Competition, and he’s served as a judge at the event each subsequent year. “I’ve seen wine-based cocktails become more common on great cocktail lists, with more drinks being made with different types of wine,” he says. “I have definitely seen an increasing number of Sherry, Port and Madeira cocktails on lists, and I think that’s a result of bartenders seeking new flavors and ingredients. Bartenders continue to care about providing great and diverse options for their guests, and wine plays a big role in that right now.”
Indeed, with so many different wine styles to choose from, mixologists have seemingly unlimited options when it comes to creating wine-based cocktails to meet drinkers’ desires. “The world of wine is so vast, with such a wide variation of flavors,” Thoroughbred Club’s Topping says. “You can always find one to fit your needs.”