There’s nothing better than a glass of wine at the end of a long day—except, perhaps, for a great cocktail. So why settle for one or the other when you could have both? Wine cocktails of some sort or another have fallen in and out of fashion for about as long as humans have known how to coax alcohol from grapes and other edible flora.
Today, wine cocktails endure and can be a great way to mix up your beverage game. If you’re typically more of a cocktail drinker, adding sparkling, still, dry or sweet wine to your drink creations can add a whole new layer of complexity. For the calorie-conscious or those who prefer a lower-alcohol tipple, cocktails that use wine rather than stronger spirits can be a wise and delicious choice.
On the other hand, oenophiles can discover a whole new way to appreciate the best qualities of their favorite wines by combining them with spirits and other ingredients that complement their flavor profiles and other characteristics. Sparkling wine can be used to add a little spritz to a cocktail, and fortified wines can add depth of flavor and, sometimes, a touch of sweetness. Although we don’t recommend making cocktails with a wine you don’t enjoy enough to drink on its own, wine cocktails can also be a great way to make use of a simple yet inexpensive good-quality wine that may not be as interesting on its own.
From old standbys to more esoteric delights, there’s a wine cocktail out there for just about everyone who enjoys drinking. These are five of our favorites to get you started, along with the recommended wine styles to make each recipe really shine.
This bubbly tipple, a combination of gin, Champagne, lemon juice and simple syrup, is straight out of the history books, dating back to the Prohibition era. Despite the name that implies otherwise, this is an American creation and the only classic cocktail to be invented in the U.S. during that time. Historians can’t agree on whether it was originally made with gin or cognac, but both delicious versions are worth a try. Our suggestion: Don’t blow your Champagne budget here; try a French crémant instead, from Alsace, Burgundy or the Loire Valley. The sparkling wines from regions other than Champagne offer quality with a lot more bang for your buck.
The Spritz comes in many forms, each more refreshing than the last. In recent years, the amaro-based Aperol Spritz has taken the cocktail world by storm, but pretty much anything can be made into a spritz by adding a splash of bubbly water. In the warmer months, we love this ultra-refreshing watermelon rendition that combines pureed watermelon with wine and club soda. It works perfectly with a crisp, dry, unoaked white wine such as pinot grigio.
White and sparkling wines don’t get to have all the fun. Red wine can be used in cocktails too. The Kalimotxo, a Spanish invention popularized in the 1970s, is one of the most popular creations, a 50-50 mixture of red wine and Coca-Cola. This refreshing summer sipper works best with a wine that tips its hat to the drink’s Spanish origins, such as a youthful joven-style Rioja.
Sherry, in all of its diverse styles, has a singular ability to elevate and add complexity to a wide range of cocktails. The Sherry Cobbler, a straightforward classic American cocktail from the early 1800s, is a perfect showcase for sherry’s nutty flavors; it sees the fortified wine combined with simple syrup and a muddled orange. Use a dry style of sherry, such as fino or amontillado. A splash of simple syrup supplies all the sweetness this cocktail needs.
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The most classic of Champagne cocktails, the Kir Royale is festive, fun and fruity. It’s a variation on the Kir, a cocktail originally devised by members of the French resistance during World War II, made by combining a dry white Burgundian wine called aligoté with crème de cassis. The Kir Royale swaps in Champagne for white wine, but as a budget-friendly option, we suggest trying cava, a Spanish sparkling wine made by the same method as Champagne.