Say hello to the wine cocktail because the low-alcohol cocktail trend is here to stay.
According to Bacardi’s 2020 Cocktails trend report, 20% of consumers say they opt to drink no or low-alcoholic beverages. With the recent sales increase of hard-seltzers, sangria, and sparkling wines at retail, bars, and restaurants take note as “aperitif” and “low-ABV cocktail” sections are popping up on menus across the country.
The low-alcohol cocktail is not a new phenomenon. The aperitif is historically a lighter pre-dinner offering served to stimulate the appetite. It was first introduced in 1846 by a French chemist, Joseph Dubonnet, who created his eponymous wine- based drink to blend with malaria fighting quinine. He found that the herbs and spices of his fortified wine masked the medicine’s bitterness. While Malaria is no longer a threat, Dubonnet remains a classic aperitif and Queen Elizabeth is known to enjoy a Dubonnet and gin cocktail every day before dinner.
Today’s modern mixologists are turning to this proven category when creating low-ABV cocktails. Seasoned mixologist, Veronica Slabicki, looked to the Mediterranean aperitif culture when creating a low-ABV cocktail menu for Miami’s award winning Boia De restaurant. “The idea is to have a wine-based drink that is a gateway into wine with your meal,” Veronica says, as she gives us a few pointers.
When making drinks with wine and fortified wine, it is important to remember that, for the most part, wine is sweeter than liquor. To keep it light and refreshing, dial down the use of syrups, sodas, and sweet juices—keep things simple. Veronica usually limits low-ABV drinks to three ingredients, otherwise things can get watered down and messy.
Susie Hoyt, mixologist at the Silver Dollar in Louisville, KY used Sauvignon Blanc to brighten and lighten the intensity of bourbon when creating the Wine Me Up. This cocktail is somewhere between a Champagne Cocktail and French 75 variation, but with the substitution of Sauvignon Blanc. Wine, like any ingredient, is nuanced so it’s important to pick the right one and for her Wine Me Up she recommends staying away from some New Zealand-style Sauvignon Blancs that might have too robust of flavor for this type of pairing.
The addition of wine and fortified wines to the mixology menu does up the ante as this is new territory for many. To get you started, we asked Veronica what she would suggest to her most hardened drinkers who don’t deviate from their tried and true.
Gin & Tonic drinker—A herbaceous white wine based quinquina, like Cap Corse, mixed with a splash of tonic water and a dash of lime.
Rum and Coke drinker—A cocktail based on medium sweet or cream sherry, because sweet sherries mimic the nutty oxidative qualities of rum as well as the sweetness of coke.
Vodka Soda drinkers—They are on their own; though maybe a neutral white wine would do the job.
A good aperitif will never replace a good cocktail but the low-ABV category is here to stay so seize the opportunity and craft some new ones. A good crafted beverage is always welcome.
85 and Sunny
- 2 oz. Cardamaro
- 1 oz. Frederic Brouca Vermouth
- 1 oz. manzanilla sherry
- 1/2 oz. cardamom and allspice syrup
Preparation: Stirred, served in the rocks, garnish with fresh cardamom leaf.
- 4 oz. Cocchi Americano
- 1 oz. lime juice
- 1/2 oz. grapefruit oleo saccharum
Preparation: Shaken, served on the rocks, garnish with a lime wheel.
The Wine Me Up
- 1/2 oz. Four Roses Bourbon
- 1/2 oz. vanilla syrup*
- 1/4 oz. grapefruit juice
- 5 dashes grapefuit bitters
- Sauvignon blanc
- Lime peel
Preparation: Put all ingredients (except wine) in a tin and shake lightly. Strain into a wine glass or coupe, top with sauvignon blanc and mix lightly. A lime peel (lime swath) is expressed in the tin, dropped in, and shaken with the cocktail. (optional): 1 egg white. *Vanilla bean syrup: 4 1/2 cups sugar, 3 cups water, 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped. Heat water and sugar to just below a simmer. Remove from heat and transfer to a cambro or another large Tupperware-style container. Allow infusing for 3-4 days before straining. When desired intensity is reached, strain through cheesecloth and a fine strainer.