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'cause it's easier being a green sinner than a green saint . . .

Wine Cocktails

The Pittsburgh Public Market is running a series of “Quickie Cocktail” classes on Fridays at 5:00 p.m. featuring a variety of local ingredients. Tiffani, the events manager at the market, has been putting these together and when she started talking about cocktail classes I told her she wasn’t allowed to do them without letting me help. So today I filled in as celebrity bartender, and I talked about wine cocktails featuring the Market’s winery, Glade Pike Winery in Somerset, PA. Wine cocktails get a bad rap, I think largely because of one single crappy drink, the white wine spritzer, which is just club soda and white wine. You know, if you need to water down your wine because it hits you too hard, you might want to stick to water with lemon or something.

But wine cocktails actually have a long history. In fact, the earliest drink labeled a “cocktail” that would be recognizable to modern drinkers as a cocktail was based on wine: the champagne cocktail. It’s just a lump of sugar doused in Angostura bitters, topped with champagne, and it’s quite lovely if you’ve never tried one.

Besides champagne-based cocktails (my favorite: the French 75 — maybe I’ll have to blog about that in a future post), most wine cocktails are based on fortified wines. Vermouth (the dry, white, French style or the sweet, red, Italian) is the most common any more, but there are a number of other aperitif-style, fortified, infused wines still around, like Lillet or Dubonnet.

Drinks based on unfortified wines are rarer, but there is one really common example lots of folks are familiar with: sangria. I do have a killer sangria recipe (also: future blog post), but I wanted to do something a little different today. Recipes below.

wine cocktails


I started with two long drinks — sangria-style but with some twists that make them a little different. The first is the Caravan cocktail. My recipe is an adaptation of the one in Difford’s Guide. Supposedly this drink originated in the ski resorts of the Alps.

The wine I used is Glade Pike’s Petit Verdot, a red. Pennsylvania isn’t really known for its reds, but this wine is really great, probably my favorite of all Glade Pike’s wines. Petit Verdot is a French grape that doesn’t grow particularly well in France (its name actually means “little green” because it tends not to ripen up), but it does nicely in the New World and has started to be used in single-varietal wines.

  • 3 oz. dry red wine (Glade Pike Petit Verdot)
  • 1/2 oz. Grand Marnier
  • Splash of Dr. Pepper
  • Pinch of sugar, if you like it sweeter
  • Garnish: brandy-soaked cherries

Mix wine and liqueur with ice in a tall glass. Top with Dr. Pepper. Add a brandy-soaked cherry as a garnish.

The original calls for Coca-cola, but I used Dr. Pepper. Actually, let me let you in on a little secret that Jimmy taught me: Dr. Pepper can fix any kind of red wine drink. If you have a sangria made with some wine that was a little too cheap, or mulled wine that mulled a little too long, or anything like that, throw some Dr. Pepper in it and it will fix it right up.

In a recipe like this, you might be a little skeptical about ruining a nice wine by mixing it with Dr. Pepper (it sounds so low-brow, doesn’t it?). But you’d be wrong. I mean, think of it this way: we often spruce up a cocktail with bitters (to add complexity), simple syrup (to add sweetness), and club soda (to add sparkle), and Dr. Pepper (or Coke) is really just a combination of all three. It’s sweetened soda water, and if you’ve ever tasted Coke or Dr. Pepper when it’s flat, you start to appreciate the complex flavors that are not so different from some bitters.

For the brandy-soaked cherries, take some fresh cherries, rinse, and dry. To pit them, if you have a fancy cherry-pitter, go for it. Otherwise, I used a paperclip bent into a hook. Just stab it into the bottom of the cherry and fish around a bit and pop out the pit. Put the cherries in a single layer shallow bowl. You can spoon a little sugar over them if they’re a little on the tart side, and then add enough brandy to just cover them. An hour or two is sufficient for them to soak it up.

Walk in the Park

The second drink is also a long drink, this one with white wine. I used the Glade Pike Vidal Blanc, which is similar in character to a Pinot Grigio (crisp, citrusy). I called this drink a “Walk in the Park” because it’s made to please most everybody: not too sweet, not to sour, not too strong — a nice refreshing summertime drink.

  • dash Angostura bitters
  • 1/2 oz. dry vermouth
  • 2 oz. semi-dry white wine (Glade Pike Vidal Blanc)
  • 1/2 oz. orange juice
  • Splash of club soda
  • Garnish: orange wheel

Mix wine, vermouth, bitters, and orange juice with ice in a tall glass. Top with club soda. Add an orange wheel as a garnish.

In a Barrel

The last wine I wanted to use was a challenge: a Niagara. Niagaras are table grapes as well as wine grapes, and they make a sweet wine with a very grape-y flavor. I’m not a sweet wine lover, and Niagara to me is like alcoholic grape juice. So how to use it in a cocktail?

Well, I wanted to make use of that great grape flavor, but balance the cloying sweetness with something else. It turned out the best way to do that was to use the wine as a syrup to flavor a cocktail that balances out the sweetness with acid (specifically lemon). This one’s best served neat in a cocktail glass, although you could do it over rocks in a highball. I called it “In a Barrel” as in “over Niagara falls in a barrel”, because after a few of these, you might feel like that’s where you’re going. They pack a punch — definitely a sipping drink.

  • 3/4 oz. Niagara syrup (see below)
  • 3/4 oz. lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 oz. gin (Plymouth)

Niagara syrup: 2 c. Niagara wine, 1 c. sugar. Heat together in a heavy saucepan on medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Cool.

Shake syrup, lemon juice, and gin in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a cocktail glass. You could garnish with a twist of lemon zest or a frozen grape.

I used Plymouth gin in this. Plymouth is a pretty strongly flavored gin but I feel like it holds up well with the other bold flavors in this cocktail. (Sidebar: I love gin. Most of the best cocktails in the world involve gin in some way. However, I recognize that not everyone has discovered the splendor of gin, and Plymouth is a very, well, “ginny” gin. So if you want to go with something a bit milder, Hendricks or Bluecoat are gins that might go nicely in this drink as well. If you use vodka instead of gin in this drink, please don’t tell me because that will just break my heart. Seriously.)

This was definitely the winning cocktail, according to the tasters at class. It got a lot of admirers and was described as a “grape-y Tom Collins” (in a good way).

Bonus: Tiffany’s blueberry shrub cocktail

This one is still a work in progress. One of the early ideas we had with the Niagara to balance its sweetness was to use what’s called a “fruit shrub”, which is a drink made from fruit (usually berries, in this case blueberries), sugar, and vinegar. We hoped the tartness of the vinegar would balance out the sweetness of the wine, but… well, it wasn’t pretty. However, it did pair nicely with Glade Pike’s Black and Blue, a fruit wine make from blackberries and blueberries. So we took a stab at this, but no definite recipe yet. I guess that means more “research” — oh no, the horror, drinking more cocktails!

More upcoming cocktail classes

There are two more of the quickie cocktail classes coming up the next 2 Fridays:

Come and check them out! The cost is $5 which also gives you a free taste of all the cocktails. It’s a great way to close out the week and do something fun for happy hour. To register, email

Drinks, LocalJonathan