Crush It: Winning Wine Cocktails

Wine is now trending as an ingredient in an unexpected way; making cameo appearances in craft cocktails across the country.

Photo By: Kristin Teig

Photo By: AJ Trela

Photo By: Kristin Teig

The Grape Escape

Everything old is new again. Bartenders across the country are turning to one of history’s most-ancient forms of alcohol — wine — to make thoroughly modern cocktails at bars and restaurants across the country. Dive in!

Whisler’s: Austin

Wine-based cocktails tend to offer lower-alcohol content, which enables the subtler characteristics of the grapes to really shine through. Such is the case with Amour Pur, a supremely refreshing tipple created at hip Austin watering hole Whisler’s. This drink offers a burst of bright acidity, thanks to a base of French Sauvignon Blanc that’s met with lemon, honey syrup and Domain de Canton — a ginger liqueur. An ounce of Lustau sherry rounds out the edges with a savory finish.

Compère Lapin: New Orleans

In a city renowned for its robust cuisine, a priority is often placed on drinks that show well at the supper table. For Abigail Gullo, bar manager at Compere Lapin, sherry-based cocktails are a sure bet. "Sherry, one of the world’s oldest wines, was created to go with and enhance food," she says. It also holds its own against heavier spirits." The medium dry styles — amontillado and oloroso — are nutty and rich with caramel and go great with whiskey, rum and reposado tequila." To wit, her Armada cocktail is a complex sipper ideal for cutting through the richness of the goat curry and other Caribbean-accented dishes on the restaurant’s dinner menu.

Cindy’s: Chicago

The past melds with the present at this hip Chicago hangout, which offers a modern remake on the retro French 75 wine cocktail. The hashtag sensibilities of the day are reflected in the refashioned recipe, which subs out the standard champagne for sparkling rosé. The cocktail’s citrus side is augmented with another trendy ingredient: Jun, a honey-fermented kombucha that’s brewed according to phases of the moon. Aptly named Howl at the Jun, this vivacious and floral drink is a perfect sipper for the outdoor patio, which affords unbeatable views of Millennium Park and the surrounding skyline.

Hojoko: Boston

Madeira is a fortified wine from Portugal characterized by high acidity. You wouldn’t necessarily expect it to figure into cocktails at a Japanese-themed bar under the shadows of Boston’s Fenway Park. But Hojoko is an establishment determined to defy the norm. With miniature Godzillas and other pop culture memorabilia watching over them, the bartenders at this izakaya incorporate off-the-wall ingredients to create curious concoctions like the Budokan. Madeira’s earthy quality is enhanced in this cocktail, thanks to the addition of a shitake mushroom-infused absinthe that’s imbued with a subtle taste of umami. Overproof rum, anise and sea salt balance out this drink, which is as memorable as the gastropub’s graffiti-meets-video-game decor.

Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour: Phoenix

This craft cocktail lounge in Phoenix is notorious for its whimsical showmanship. Instagram-ready drinks include a bubbly punch that’s presented in a miniaturized Chinese porcelain bathtub, a house-carbonated riff on Long Island Iced Tea that’s served in a soda can and a whiskey-centric cocktail that comes in a honey bear bottle. If you're tempted to dismiss it as gimmickry, try a cocktail from barman and owner Ross Simon that proves you don’t need an eye-catching presentation to impress. Freshly pressed pineapple juice, raspberries, and vanilla accentuate a red wine base, combining to form a tart and pleasantly dry drink that’s cheekily named Quit Your Wining. Equally playful is the food menu, which is rife with fun bites like ramen burgers and spiked cupcakes.

Boleo: Chicago

Peruvian and Argentinean flavors may reign supreme at Boleo, a Latin-inspired outpost atop the roof of the Gray Hotel in downtown Chicago, but one of its drinks has a distinctly Italian flair. Tucked amongst the pisco-forward cocktails that crowd the menu is the Uvas y Vinos spritzer, which brings together Prosecco, white vermouth and a Malbec syrup reduction made in-house. Even the kitchen’s vibrant ceviches can’t overpower this cocktail’s acidic brightness.

Humpback Sally’s: Bismarck, North Dakota

A craft cocktail scene is burgeoning in North Dakota’s capital, as evidenced by inventive drinks like the Rollo Tomasi served at trendy tavern Humpback Sally’s. Two kinds of sherry — Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez — are combined in this unlikely concoction named after a villain from the '90s detective film, LA Confidential. The nuttier notes of Oloroso ought to be at odds with the raisins and plums of the Pedro Ximénez, but the drink is balanced out by the addition of the juniper-forward spirit Genever and the quinine-flavored aperitif Byrrh. The former adds malty depth and botanical charm; the latter ties it all up in a delicate bow of bitterness. The only thing more surprising than the cocktail list at Humpback Sally's is the fact that there’s a speakeasy hidden above this small-plates spot.

The Three Clubs: Hollywood, California

The more the merrier when it comes to indulging in the Needless to Say, a large-format libation offered at Hollywood cocktail lounge The Three Clubs. This drink pairs port and Pinot Noir, then pulls in raisin-infused vodka, Mexican honey liqueur, sugar, cinnamon and ginger to create layers of tongue-tingling flavor. Served warm and garnished with raisins and almond slices, it may seem like a cold-weather sipper, but this drink is a year-round hit in a town where it rarely falls below 65 degrees. Don’t try to tackle this oversized tipple alone, though; it’s served in a punch bowl.

Decoy: Manhattan

At this tiny gem of a spot tucked away underneath sister restaurant RedFarm, Shawn Chen delivers big with the cocktails. People may flock to Decoy for the Peking duck, but the drinks are equally alluring. Having established himself as one of New York’s most playfully inventive barmen, Chen’s skill lies in his ability to transform a surprising mix of ingredients into a superbly balanced drink. Take his Lights Out cocktail, for instance. Muddling berries within a healthy pour of Malbec would seemingly skew the scales too far towards fruit. But Chen reels the flavors back in with a thoughtful application of bitter and tart in the form of Lillet Blanc, then adds a bit of density courtesy of the fruity-meets-floral liqueur Creme Yvette. A fresh berry skewer completes a colorful presentation.