Wine Cocktails 2.0

the crush wine bar

Bartenders are creating a sleek new generation of wine-based cocktails.

By Kara Newman
Photos by Meg Baggott

Forget clumsy “winetails.” Today, bartenders are using wine in cocktails to create food-friendly sips and push drinks into new territory. Savvy barkeeps are reaching for the wine bottle because it provides something not easily found in other ingredients. “Wine gives me a broader reach,” says Amanda Reed, beverage director at Seattle’s Heartwood Provisions, which specializes in food and cocktail pairings. “There are so many flavors you can have from using particular wine products that spirits may not have—the array of botanicals, the complexity of flavors.”

Reed uses white wine or verjus in place of citrus to provide acidity, and she’s a fan of the fruity and H oral aromatics provided by late-harvest wines.

The Pamplona, served at San Antonio bar Juniper Tar, looks like a glass of red wine: dark and inky in the glass, with just a simple curl of lemon peel.

“It was inspired by a trip to Spain,” says Benjamin Krick, the bar manager. Krick developed the drink after he was introduced to the Kalimotxo, a highball-like mix of Spain’s abundant red wine with Coca-Cola, oft en served with a squeeze of lemon.

Krick reinterprets the casual drink as a high-end, low-alcohol sipper that features Sherry and a syrup made with red wine and Coca-Cola. Lemon oil adds fragrance.

The wine-forward base provides “rich mouthfeel and body,” he says. “It’s better than just adding sugar to a cocktail.”

At New York City’s Nix, head bartender Soraya Odishoo makes a “smoked” wine for her Oakland cocktail. Starting with Rioja, she takes a flame to star anise, clove and cinnamon and “traps” the resulting smoke inside the wine. Mixed with golden rum and bitters, the drink is like a mashup of mulled wine and spiced rum.

Most agree that the recent Sherry revival, coupled with an uptick in vermouth bottlings, created a gateway for more wine cocktails.

“Sherry was definitely the bridge to incorporating any kind of wine into cocktails,” says Krick, pointing to the classic Sherry Cobbler, a simple mix of Sherry and crushed fruit that’s enjoying a comeback nationwide.

Heartwood’s Reed uses her ample experience in both wine and spirits. “My angle is to mix my worlds a little bit,” she says. “But I think all bartenders should use a lot of wine in cocktails.”

Viognier + Lillet Blanc + Gin + Grapefruit = Aqua-y-essence

From Brooklyn Bartender by Carey Jones (Black Dog & Leventhal, 2016)

This stirred drink combines aromatic white wine with wine-based Lillet, contributing acidity without any fresh fruit juice.

  • Grapefruit peel
  • 1½ ounce Dorothy Parker American gin
  • 1 ounce dry Viognier (or a full-bodied Sauvignon Blanc)
  • ¾ ounce Lillet Blanc
  • ¼ ounce Combier Pamplemousse (grapefruit liqueur)
  • 2 dashes grapefruit bitters

Twist a grapefruit peel into a coupe glass. Discard the peel and set the glass aside. Combine the remaining ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until well chilled and strain into the coupe glass.

Sherry + Lambrusco + Scotch = the 5 O’clock Shadow

Courtesy Amanda Reed, Heartwood Provisions, Seattle

Reed uses a smoky blended Scotch (try Wemyss Malts Peat Chimney) for the base and infuses it with black peppercorns for extra bite. Lambrusco adds fizz and red fruit, while Sherry adds layers of salinity, nuts and dark chocolate.

  • 1 ounce black pepper infused Scotch*
  • 2 ounces Moscatel Sherry (PX or oloroso may be substituted)
  • ¼ ounce lime juice
  • 2 ounces Lambrusco
  • Speck, for garnish

In a rocks glass filled with ice, add Scotch, Sherry and lime juice. Top with Lambrusco, and stir to mix. Garnish with speck speared on a toothpick.


  • 8 ounces blended Scotch whisky
  • ¼ cup whole black peppercorns

Combine the Scotch and peppercorns. Let steep for 1–2 days. Strain out the peppercorns prior to use.

Red Wine + Coke + Sherry (x2) = Pamplona

Courtesy Benjamin Krick, Juniper Tar, San Antonio

Inspired by Kalimotxo, the popular Basque mix of red wine and Coca-Cola, this is best served at room temperature, which allows the cocktail’s nuances to come forward. (Krick uses dehydrated lemon slices for garnish, but we’ve opted for a simpler piece of lemon peel.)

  • 1 ounce fino Sherry
  • 2 ounces oloroso Sherry
  • ¾ ounces red wine reduction*
  • Lemon peel

In a mixing glass, stir together all ingredients except garnish. Strain into a Nick & Nora glass or small wine glass. Twist a lemon peel over the drink’s surface to express its oils, then drape the peel over the edge of the glass to garnish.


  • 12 ounces Mexican Coca-Cola
  • 6 ounces red wine (use a full-bodied Spanish wine like Tempranillo or Garnacha)

Reduce the ingredients separately in two small saucepans (the red wine will reduce faster). In each saucepan, simmer the liquid for about 10 minutes, or until it thickens a bit. Allow to cool. Measure the reductions again: The ratio should be 3 parts reduced Coke to 1 part reduced wine. (If you prefer ounces, 6 ounces reduced Coke to 2 ounces reduced wine.) Stir together.


More ways to mix it up with wine: