Grape, Meet Grain: New Takes on the Wine Cocktail

Wine and spirits harmonize in these innovative hybrid drinks.



Patrons torn between Malbec and a martini, or Syrah and a Sazerac, may no longer be forced to make that oh-so-difficult wine-or-cocktail decision. Innovative mixologists are using wine in creative ways that lend drinks an enticing, yet entirely approachable complexity.

Todd Thrasher of Society Fair in Alexandria, Virginia, headed to the wine rack to create the seven cocktails on his “Tails from the Vine” menu.

“Wine has a base of all these amazing flavors built right in,” he says. For his savory I Want To Eat An Onion Tart, Thrasher sautés onions with Riesling and thyme, and then allows the infusion to steep for a day. He adds a dose of the mixture to a combination of Dolin Blanc Vermouth, Flor de Caña 4 Year Extra Dry Rum and lemon bitters, and garnishes the drink with a bacon cracker.

The base for his Whiskey And Wine drink is Sauternes simmered with cardamom, star anise, clove, orange peel and honey. The finished sip adds Forty Creek Barrel Select Whiskey, Four Roses Yellow Bourbon and orange bitters.

“Wine has a lot of definitions, so it really adds a whole new palette of flavors to paint with,” says Ravi DeRossi, owner of New York City’s Bourgeois Pig, which boasts 18 cellar-inspired libations on its menu.

For the Stiff Upper Lip, fresh rosemary steeps in already-fragrant Muscat, giving the wine a heady boost. It’s then mixed with muddled Fuji apple, orange cordial and pomegranate molasses. The staff’s latest technique is carbonating wine tipples with a soda charger, which adds zippy effervescence without dilution.

Wine can replace the base spirit in a cocktail, which adds layered flavor while tempering the alcohol content. However, Colin Shearn, the general manager and head bartender at Franklin Mortgage and Investment Company in Philadelphia, prefers to employ it in smaller doses.

“I like to think of it more as an accent that can be the bridge to other ingredients,” says Shearn.

Wine is used sparingly in drinks like The Phantom Passage, with El Dorado 5 Year Old Cask Aged Rum, lemon, orange blossom syrup, Angostura Bitters, egg white and half an ounce of Chilean Carmenère.

Shearn is constantly tinkering to find the best combinations, but has discovered that big, bold reds can stand in for Carpana Antica Vermouth, and acidic, mineral-driven whites for fino Sherry.

“People know wine or think they do. It’s something familiar,” he says.

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