Make the most out of your wine with these tips and tricks to totally transform it.

The New Way to Wine Cooler: Punch and Cocktail Recipes Where Vino Is the Star

As I’ve begun dining out again and meeting friends for drinks at local bars, I’ve noticed an influx of cocktails with wine as their base. While I once only imagined wine-based drinks coming in the form of wine coolers or simple sangrias served at parties, this new way to drink wine is a pleasant surprise as an easy-to-drink option when I’m not looking to go full spirit.

At U Street Pizza in Pasadena, California, bartenders combine one of my favorite styles of wine—orange wine—into a fruit-forward cocktail. The Free Parking cocktail has a base of Oeno Skin Contact combined with pisco, a spirit derived from grapes, that’s mixed with fresh watermelon juice. Shaken and poured over ice, this cocktail has freshness with a slight bite while also managing to be utterly refreshing.

When I got home and thought about wine as a jumping-off point for cocktails, I remembered the wine coolers of my past (and my parents’ past, and their parents’ past) and how sweet and artificial they were. These coolers came bottled in bright colors with headaches waiting the next morning.

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Today’s wine cocktails are much different from those coolers, Logan Bates, general manager and bartender at U Street, tells me. “The craft aspect of using wine in cocktails differentiates it from the cooler which was basically just a sugar bomb. We’re trying to class up what a wine cooler used to be,” Bates says. Similar to the way beer had its moment, wine is on its way to new heights and possibilities.

As bars across the West start to incorporate wine into craft cocktails, it’s just as easy to start mixing them up at home. With a bottle or two of wine on hand, some fresh ingredients, and the following tips and recipes, you’ll be set to hop on the trend. We’ve got the recipe for U Street’s Free Parking as well as new takes on sangria and other wine-based drinks so you can start sipping your wine in cooler ways.

Why These Wine Cocktails Are Different

To begin redefining the wine cooler, we should first start by discussing what was in those we once loved (or pretended to love). In the variety pack of Bartles & Jayme’s coolers, you saw flavors like margarita and daiquiri—two drinks that are definitely not made with wine. These bottled drinks (which have recently been rebranded in cans) use wine blends as their base presumably because they’re inexpensive, drinkable, and sound a little milder than spirits like tequila or rum on labels.

Bates shares a similar sentiment about wine’s drinkability and why it makes for a great mixer. “Wine doesn’t require as much of an acquired taste as hard liquor,” Bates says. “If you’re not into distilled spirits, wine is a more approachable option; by adding it into a cocktail you can help ease people into ordering mixed drinks.” It’s important to take care when sourcing your wines. You don’t want to grab a cheap jug of as though you’re mixing a big bucket of party sangria. Instead, grab a bottle you would want to sip by itself. This way, you end up with a wine that you already know and enjoy, making for a comfortable palate to build your cocktail upon.

wonderwerk natural orange wine
A collection of wines from Wonderwerk House of Fermentation based in Los Angeles, California

Wonderwerk House of Fermentation

Which Wines to Use

For the Free Parking recipe shared below, check out our orange wine guide for a few bottles that we love. If you’re more of a fan of reds and whites, we have some suggestions for those as well. The wine you use in your cocktail will not only add a boost with lower alcohol content but also a unique flavor profile that Bates says “adds to the color and to the dryness” of the finished drink.

Another recipe on the U Street menu is a cocktail called the Pasadena Pleaser; in this drink, vodka is combined with vermouth and topped with Prosecco. It’s “like an upscale vodka soda,” says Bates, adding that Prosecco is used to impart some carbonation while the spirits pair together to bring forth a dryness accentuated by the splash of bubbly. For an easy way to convert your favorite soda-based cocktail into a wine spritz (gin and tonic maybe?), add Prosecco or sparkling wine instead of club soda or tonic water. 

ingredients in jars to make cocktails
An array of fruits that make for great additions to any punch or wine cocktail—either as a garnish or muddled into the cocktail itself

Westend61/Getty Images

Popular Wine and Spirit Combos

Pairing wines and spirits is a big part of what makes these cocktail variations so delicious and drinkable.

“In our orange wine cocktail, we pair it with pisco, which is a liquor made with grapes, so you’re matching grapes with grapes which makes this drink so good,” Bates says before adding how the natural flavors of wines complement fresh fruit. 

A popular combination of wine, fruit, and spirit is the Aperol spritz. “The Aperol spritz has been around for so long,” Bates tells us. “It features Prosecco, which almost works as a vehicle to open up the Aperol itself and brings out the orange flavors of it.” This is a classic example of wine working wonders in a cocktail, and how booze and fruit can come together in their best forms when paired with wine. 

In our recipe for white peach sangria, we pair white peaches, which usually come into season later in the summer, with a bottle of Riesling to complement and balance the natural sweetness both carry. It’s topped with sparkling wine to add some carbonation and a splash or so of peach schnapps, which pairs well with the dryness of the sparkling wine. 

It’s a nuanced game, mixing and combining wine with other forms of liqueur. Though with a bit of experimentation, it becomes simple to spritz up the last glass of vino or stretch out a bottle to last a few more rounds with friends.

“Wine has always been so communal,” Bates tells us. “Having wine around has always been a thing for get-togethers. It’s for celebration and clinking. Not everyone likes beer but there’s a wine for every taste.”

So have no fear as you explore combining wines in ways that are beyond that of a basic sangria or mimosa, and rid yourself of what you once thought wine coolers would be.

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