Now, there’s a third choice. You can call it a great compromise or yet another frustrating new option, but the use of wine in cocktails — wine cocktails, so to speak— is becoming ever more popular. From San Francisco’s Tradition to Oakland’s Ramen Shop, wine cocktails are showing up not only in spritzer form, but as creations of their own, with wine as a straight ingredient — a wine syrup, for example — or in the form of new vermouths and aperitifs.Sure, there are some well-loved classic cocktails that use wine. The New York Sour, for example, floats a light layer of red wine atop a blend of whiskey, lemon and simple syrup. A French 75 douses gin, lemon juice and simple syrup with sparkling wine. And an Old Cuban splashes rum, lime, sugar, and bitters with sparkling wine.
But aside from those cherished few, wine — especially non-sparking wine — has not been a common ingredient in contemporary cocktails. The worlds did not mix, as it were. Today, that’s changing.
“Bartenders are always trying to come up with new ingredients,” says Ian Scalzo, owner and bar director at San Francisco’s Horsefeather. “It’s one of the things where, especially now, everything is so saturated, everyone’s trying to do something to stand out.”
Scalzo’s cocktail menu showcases deep wine flavors with his housemade wine syrups. His Cool Breeze takes inspiration from the flavor profile of a rosé from Provence, mixing vodka and fresh lime with a syrup made by reducing rosé with honey and herbs de Provence.
A Healdsburg company, Stolen Fruit, has picked up on the trend by creating non-alcoholic wine syrups that you can mix with sparking water or with a spirit at home.
“There’s a new trend in mixers — the all-in-one mixer — which allows you to take two ingredients, your spirit and the mixer, and you’ve got one beautiful, complex cocktail,” says co-owner Doug Provisor, who comes from a winemaking background. “We landed on these mixers in part because we thought it was the best way to manifest the wine grape in a non-alcoholic form.”
General manager Johnny Codd at San Francisco cocktail bar, Tradition, prefers wine in its classic form. “I wanted a cocktail with wine in it,” he says.
He includes a pour of rosé in his Public House cocktail, which includes gin, passion fruit syrup, lemon and a black pepper tincture. To him, the wine angle is not only part of his constant quest to introduce new cocktails, but also a reaction to the boom of new products — or more access to old ones — on the market. That includes grape-based vermouths and aperitifs.
Cocktails with wine, Codd says, “are expanding a lot. New sherries are coming out all the time, wine as well. For bartenders, it’s something that you need to know. It used to be just cocktails and spirits, but wine is now part of it.”
Bar director Chris Lane’s Ruby Bloom cocktail at Ramen Shop is a good example. He blends Vino Chinato — an aperitif made from the popular Italian nebbiolo grape — with a big gin, apricot brandy, orange curacao and another aperitif called Contratto.
“It’s partially part of the low ABV (alcohol by volume) trend,” Lane says. “You can now let aperitifs and vermouths take more center stage. You can really build on vermouth as you would another spirit.”
That’s worth raising a glass — wine or cocktail — to say cheers.
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