It’s a sipper’s dilemma that works its way into a challenge, whether it’s Friday night happy hour, date night, or just a regular Tuesday—do I want to drink wine tonight? Or am I in the mood for an interesting cocktail? Turns out, there is a solution: A wine cocktail.
“Cocktails have been trending for some time now, driven by the millennial generation’s coming of drinking age and thirst for innovation and diversity. As a demographic, they are less likely to just stick to beer or wine or spirits and are drawn to creative twists on their favorite drinks which gave bartenders the freedom to experiment with all types of ingredients, including wine,” she says.
Wine, explains Wölffer, is full of varieties and choices. Yes, wine stands perfectly on its own, but it also plays nicely with others, including spirits. From oaky, tobacco-filled reds to effervescent, fruity bubbly, there is a wine choice that can add depth to even the most unusual libations, pleasing even the most discerning of palates.
“Wine is so diverse that it can be a welcome addition to any style of cocktail. A sparkling [wine] can serve to temper bitter ingredients with beautiful fruit flavors. Red wine can add a rich fruit profile that can balance out citrus in a cocktail. Wine also helps to enhance acidity and temper sweetness in a cocktail, so what you end up with is often very refreshing,” she says.
Evan Hosaka, lead bartender at Las Vegas, Nevada’s Rosina Bar, explains that he experiments with wine cocktails frequently to up the ante on the bar’s cocktail program. He has worked out a tried-and-true method to building wine cocktails that is a bit unconventional—since their wine selection is so diverse, he puts an emphasis on color first, to ensure his cocktail is as stunning as it is flavorful.
“Depending on the characteristics you want to taste in the finished cocktail, wines can be chosen first by color, then by varietal for reasons of structure or tannins, acidity, residual sugar, and alcohol by volume. Most times, a cocktail featuring a medium-bodied wine is a safe bet,” he says.
Wölffer echoed this sentiment, noting that wine can easily play second fiddle to help elevate a cocktail, as long as it’s the ideal flavor style for the beverage.
“Mixologists are discovering unconventional pairings all the time. The trick is to find a balance between your ingredients to ensure you don’t end up with a cocktail that is overly sweet or too acidic. If wine is playing a supporting role, it’s important to select a wine that embodies the flavors that you’re trying to achieve,” she says.
However, she says, there is one wine that seems to be a winner when blended with spirits as it’s almost a perfect pairing for any of them—Verjus.
“Verjus is pressed from grapes that have not yet ripened, so it has a lot more acidity than table wine and is non-alcoholic. It has a really bright, crisp character which makes it a perfect and super versatile cocktail component. It can also be used as a citrus replacement, which means your opportunities are really endless from a wine and spirit standpoint,” she says.
Hosaka, however, says that fortified wines also add layers of flavor that are unique. Adding these to a spirit cocktail offers both those who imbibe at the bar and those who prefer to make cocktails at home a complex creation without the complexity.
“We like to use a bit of sherry, a type of fortified wine, as a split base or modifier in cocktails. It really comes down to tasting the flavors and the balance. There are also many other types of fortified wines that I am excited to see get incorporated into cocktails,” he says.
But maybe the best part about a wine cocktail, says Wölffer, is that anytime is a good time to enjoy one.
“Conventional thinking on when to enjoy a cocktail has been thrown out the window as of late. As with most cocktails, drinkers can start or end an evening with them, depending on the occasion,” she says.
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