I’ll be the first to admit I love wine on it’s own and am often a bit skeptical of a wine based cocktail. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the 80’s and was traumatized by Bartles & Jaymes.
But lets shift perspective a bit. Think of a wine cocktail as a drink that is using wine as its base the way a regular cocktail uses a spirit. You want to play up the natural flavors in the wine for a more layered experience. Wine can also be used as a great substitute for spirits to make classic cocktails that are low proof (See White Wine Mojito below). And if you're entertaining, wine based cocktails are great to make in pitcher sized batches so no one is stuck behind the bar.
Here’s a few ideas to get you started and just in time for warm weather hangouts.
Let’s start with the most basic and most made fun of - the wine spritzer. Again I blame the 80’s and still can’t help think of bad perms when I hear the words. But the idea of a spritzer has so much more to offer. While it may seem a shame to mix perfectly good wine, white or red, with soda water, on a hot summer day there is nothing better than a crisp, fruity Pinot Grigio brightened up with seltzer and a squeeze of citrus. Trust me on this one.
But a wine spritzer can easily be made more “sophisticated” with a few dashes of bitters and/or a little flavored syrup or fresh fruit. Remember it’s all about balance, so if you use a sweeter wine you might want a bit more bitters or tarter fruit like berries, but a super dry wine goes well with sweeter fruit like peaches and mangos.
Strawberry Basil Spritz
This simple, yet impressive spritz is layered with flavor and looks stunning in the glass.
1 bottle (750 ml) Riesling (Pinto Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc also works well)
2 cups strawberries sliced
2 Tbs sugar
¼ cup basil leaves roughly torn
1 oz The Bitter Housewife Grapefruit Bitters
16 oz soda water
In a bowl combine strawberries, sugar, basil, and bitters. Muddle until the strawberries are pulp and no large pieces remain. Add the bottle of wine and stir to mix. It should turn a lovely shade of pink. Then strain into a pitcher to remove pulp and leaves. Add soda water just before serving and give a gentle stir. Pour into a wine glass or tumbler with a few ice cubes and garnish with a basil leaf.
Earl Grey Spritz
Made with sparkling wine and earl grey infused honey syrup, this is definitely not your mother’s wine spritzer. You can also use just soda water for a lovely non-alcoholic spritzer.
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup earl grey infused honey syrup*
1 oz The Bitter Housewife Orange Bitters
1 (750-ml) bottle sparkling wine (such as brut Cava or Champagne)
8 oz soda water
Orange slices for garnish
* Earl grey infused honey syrup: combine ½ cup honey and ½ cup water in a small saucepan over low heat. Bring to a bare simmer and make sure all honey is dissolved into the water. Remove from heat, add 1 earl grey tea bag or 1 Tbs loose tea and let sit for 5 minutes. Remove tea bag or strain loose tea.
Combine lemon juice, syrup, bitters, and soda water in a pitcher and mix gently. Then slowly pour in the sparkling wine, if you pour down the side it will foam less. To serve pour into a wine glass with a few ice cubes and garnish with and orange slice. You’ll want to make this one right before guests arrive so the bubbles stay bright.
Just as famous as a spritzer, but with a totally different reputation is sangria. It’s often attributed to nights that can’t be remembered and mornings you wish you didn’t. But there are many ways to make a sangria and they don’t have to be super boozy.
What many people don’t realize is that traditional Spanish sangria is made not only with full strength wine, but also with a few shots of high proof sprits like Brandy or Cointreau or similar. Since it goes down so easy you can quickly have one (or a few) too many.
But you can easily skip the extra booze and add a little fruit juice or flavored syrup for some extra depth or add soda water to bring it all down to the strength of a glass of wine. And sangria doesn’t have to be made with red wine, which will give you a broader canvas with which to work. Try a white sangria with Sauvignon Blanc, fresh stone fruit, and ginger syrup or the super refreshing Rose sangria below.
Unlike most red sangrias that benefit from being made hours ahead so the flavors all meld, this bright, fresh sangria should be mixed just before guests arrive so the bubbles don’t go flat.
2 regular-size hibiscus tea bags (I used Smith Tea Hibiscus, but Tazo Passion is also a good option)
1 cup cold water
8 oz fresh raspberries (about 2 cups), plus more for garnish
1 oz simple syrup
1 oz The Bitter Housewife Orange Bitters
1 bottle (750-ml) chilled sparkling rosé
Steep the hibiscus tea in the cold water for about an hour. Combine tea, raspberries, and simple syrup in a blender till smooth. The strain through a sieve to remove seeds. This can be made ahead of time and kept covered in the fridge.
When ready to serve combine raspberry mixture with bitters and sparkling rose in a pitcher. Mix gently, but well. Pour into wine glasses or tumblers with ice. Garnish with a few extra raspberries.
Spanish Red Sangria
The best sangria I ever had was in a monastery in Spain. It was made table-side by a monk and both the red wine and orange liqueur used were made in the monastery. I watched carefully as it was made and this is my best recreation. Of course no bitters were added, but I find the bitters are the secret ingredient that makes it more than just fruity wine.
1 bottle (750-ml) fruity red wine, such as Merlot
4 oz Cointreau or Triple Sec
1 oz The Bitter Housewife Aromatic Bitters
2 whole oranges sliced crosswise (so you get nice circles of fruit)
Place the oranges, triple sec, and bitters in a pitcher. Muddle them to get some of the juice from the oranges out, but don’t destroy them. This can also be done with the end of a wooden spoon. Pour in the red wine, stir to mix, and let chill in the fridge for at least an hour. Serve in a glass with ice and garnish with an orange slice.
Replacing spirits with wine in cocktails was a bit of a revelation for me. It doesn’t always work as a straight up swap, but I love the low proof option it can provide.
Your best bets are vodka, rum, or tequila based cocktails that rely heavily on citrus and/or fruit for their flavor. Think margaritas, fruit daiquiris, mules, and yes even a mojito.
White Wine Mojito
This summer classic made low proof certainly holds its own. Make a pitcher full because everyone will want a second. If you want to keep it bright and citrusy use the Lime Coriander Bitters. If you’re up for something a little unexpected try Cardamom Bitters. Cardamom, lime, and mint are a great combination and no one will be able to guess your secret ingredient.
1 bottle (750 ml) of white wine (Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio)
2 cups soda water
½ cup fresh lime juice (~4 limes)
¼ - ⅓ cup mint syrup*
1 oz The Bitter Housewife Lime Coriander or Cardamom Bitters
Additional mint for garnish
*I love a good mojito, but always hate all the bits of mint in the glass. So I’m a fan of making a mint syrup. Bring 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, and ½ cup of fresh mint leaves to a bare simmer in a saucepan. Simmer for about 10 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool. Once cool strain out the mint. You can keep in a sealed container in the fridge for at least a month. You can also chop about ¾ of a cup of fresh mint and mix that in with about a ¼ cup of sugar if you don't want to make a syrup.
In a pitcher combine wine, lime juice, syrup, and bitters. Stir to mix. When you’re ready to serve add the soda water, give a gentle stir, and pour into ice filled tumblers. Garnish with a small sprig of mint.