There’s more to wine cocktails beyond the spritzer

By / Wine + Drinks / August 9th, 2017 / 11

Unless it’s mulled, almost nobody really wants to hear about wine cocktails. I blame the spritzer. That dull, watery, sparkle-free drink that never lives up to its bright, bubbly name and has dampened our enthusiasm for the entire category. The spritzer is the reason we can’t have nice wine cocktails.

That’s a mistake, though. After all, the existence of dozens of first-rate Champagne cocktails should be our first clue that it is possible to use wine in a better way. And a lot of bartenders are working towards that goal by trying to think beyond the conventional spritzer (usually by adding vermouth and bitter apéritif wines) so that we can come up with interesting ways to use wine in mixed drinks.

Of course, oenophiles might counter that this is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Wine, after all, is just fine on its own. But we’ve all had a bottle of off-dry something that isn’t quite to our taste yet we wouldn’t mind repurposing. And, from the other side of the wood, bartenders are always looking for ways to offer lower-alcohol cocktails or add a little depth of flavour with a splash of something unique.

Christopher Cho, bar manager and co-owner of Saskatoon’s Ayden Kitchen & Bar, is doing just that and says he not only tries to do interesting upgrades on traditional spritzers and sangria, but is also a long-time fan of adding wine to other, boozy cocktails as a way to fine-tune the balance.

“I’ve been using wine in cocktails for a very long time, whether it’s a red wine float or I make a syrup out of it,” says Cho. “It’s especially useful to cut out the harshness of certain types of alcohol, especially the high-proof whiskeys.”

Cho likens it to barrel-aging cocktails which will cut out harshness, add sweetness and balance the cocktail out. The prime example of this is the New York sour, a drink that has become popular in craft cocktail bars in recent years.

“Some patrons find the whiskey way too dominant in a classic sour, which is bourbon, lemon juice and simple syrup,” Cho says. “A little float of fruity red wine, say — a half-ounce — will just punch the whiskey back and fix the imbalance.”

Cho says the other way he likes to use wine is as a syrup, which doubles as a solution for what to do with the dregs of a bottle that might not be perfect for straight drinking anymore. Below is a recipe for the Coctel de Vino, one of Ayden Kitchen’s most popular spring cocktails, as well as instructions for how to turn unwanted wine into a delicious syrup — perfect for use as a cocktail sweetener.

coctel de vino

1 1/2 oz gin
3/4 oz red wine (Pinot Noir) syrup, recipe below
1/2 oz Aperol
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
3 dashes peach bitters
2 oz sparkling wine

To an ice-filled shaker, add all ingredients except sparkling wine. Shake well and strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Top up with sparkling wine. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

red wine syrup

Add 250 ml of red wine and the peel of one-third of an orange to a saucepan. Gently heat and simmer until wine has reduced by one-quarter. Add 1/4 cup of sugar to pot; whisk. Remove from heat, strain solids, bottle and refrigerate.


Christine Sismondo is a National Magazine Award-Winning drinks columnist and the author of Mondo Cocktail: A Shaken and Stirred History as well as America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops.

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