When you think of cocktails made with red wine, drinks such as sangria and kalimotxo may come to mind. But red wine is a more versatile cocktail addition than most would think. It lends itself to spritz-style creations along with richer, higher-ABV options.

Hospitality speaks to Yoshi Onishi from Banchō Bar, Darcy Travers from Strange Company, Nat Yao from Bar Margaux, and Brock Upton-Steele from Death & Taxes to find out how bars across Australia are using red wine in their cocktails.

Hong Kong Sour

The Hong Kong Sour takes its cues from the New York Sour and has been a popular cocktail at Banchō Bar since it opened in Sydney’s Chinatown. According to Group Beverage Manager Yoshi Onishi, Banchō’s version ties in with the venue’s Asian inspired backstory.

“It’s a red wine float infused with whole spices from Chinese five spice mix and a hint of Sichuan peppercorns,” he says. “The spices bring a unique richness to the cocktail, complementing the spiciness of the rye whiskey.”

Red wine is a key ingredient in the classic New York Sour, and Onishi uses it in Banchō’s version, but in a reduced form. The wine is mixed with cinnamon quills, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, and star anise over heat and reduced to 75 per cent before it’s strained.

“We reduce the red wine to integrate and enhance the spice notes,” says Onishi. “We need it to produce enough flavour and aroma as we only need a small amount in the cocktail.” To make the Hong Kong Sour, rye whiskey, lemon juice, and sugar syrup are shaken and strained before the red wine reduction is poured on top, creating an eye-catching contrast in colour between the two layers.

Onishi admits red wine is not the most common ingredient found in cocktails, which means it does spark interest among drinkers. “Red wine can bring complexity to a cocktail without adding a lot of extra alcohol into it,” he says. “It can easily be used as the base ingredient of your cocktail … or can even be turned into an ice cube to serve with your whiskey sour.”

The Bowline Fizz

At Fremantle’s Strange Company in Perth, the Bowline Fizz is one of the latest cocktails to be added to the menu. Crafted by Venue Manager Alex Handley, the cocktail features an element made of red wine and watermelon sorbet.

Co-Owner Darcy Travers says the cocktail was inspired by the sgroppino along with the team wanting to make a red wine sorbet. “Visually, it is a colourful drink with a huge amount of texture and fun coming from the red wine sorbet playing off the sparkling wine,” says Travers.

The Bowline Fizz is made from Plantation 3 Stars white rum, apple syrup, and lime juice shaken with ice. A scoop of sorbet is added to the glass before the rum mixture is strained over it and topped with sparkling wine. “It introduces itself with a burst of dry bubbles and the malic acid of the apples before the white rum shines in the middle, giving body to the drink. The red wine and watermelon sorbet leaves you with a sweet, tart, and distinct red wine flavour that is not overpowering or unbalanced.”

It’s not the first time Strange Company has opted to add a red wine-based cocktail to its menu, with the Summer Del 66 a popular choice during the warmer months. “It [red wine] can bring a whole range of flavours from bright red fruits, black fruits, and blue fruits through to chocolate, menthol, and spices,” says Travers.

But bartenders are encouraged to carefully consider which style of red wine to use in cocktails as a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t apply. “Cabernet Sauvignon is more likely to stand up against heavy whiskey but might be too overpowering for a nuanced gin which may have more luck with a light Grenache or a Pinot Noir.”

The Bishop

Melbourne’s Bar Margaux is beating the winter chill with its take on the classic Bishop cocktail. Venue Manager Nat Yao and her team have changed the classic recipe by opting for rum instead of port to give the drink a softer character. For the red wine addition, they reach for Merlot. “The wine gives a delightful, warming punch and a spiced richness on the palate when used alongside Jamaican rum,” she says. “It imparts a nuanced intensity of plum and dark berry aromas.”

Orange bitters, lime juice, simple syrup, Merlot, and Jamaican rum are combined in a heat-proof vessel, which is warmed using a coffee steamer or simmered on the stove before being poured into a warm mug and served with a lime wedge. “The drink is reminiscent of a Toddy with gentle tones of a mulled wine … the Bishop cocktail is entrancingly deep while whimsically sharp,” says the bartender.

While the Bishop is Bar Margaux’s first red wine-based cocktail to make the drinks list, Yao says the bar team never turns down an opportunity to create a New York Sour. Her advice for using red wine in cocktails? Keep the good stuff in the cellar. “No need for a fancy bottle, if there’s a spare dreg around, get experimenting,” she says. “Red wine pairs well with citrus for a summery beverage, and little touches are also great for spirit-forward cocktails as it can add structure and dimension.”

The Voltaire

Brisbane bar Death & Taxes is pouring its take on the classic Manhattan with none other than Shiraz. Venue Manager Brock Upton-Steele says the Voltaire cocktail is a “seductive twist” on the Manhattan and has a flavour profile based on orchard fruits.

“Voltaire is a stiff Scotch drink with a textural component taken from the tannic nature of Shiraz,” he explains. “The flavours give way to brighter fruits such as cherry and plum before finishing with a malty sweetness.”

The Voltaire is made with Monkey Shoulder, Muyu Vetiver Gris, cherry syrup, and Shiraz which is stirred down until chilled and served in a frozen martini glass. “Shiraz brings a texturally tannic element to the cocktail which allows a subtle bitterness and balances the sweeter flavours,” he says. “Being a heavier-bodied red, [Shiraz] provides a wide mouthfeel to the drink juxtaposed with the sweetness of cherry.”

Red wine is also teamed with whisky in a New York Sour at the bar, with its complexity giving drinkers something to think about. “It brings a lot of different characteristics to cocktails and acts as a great balancing agent,” says Upton-Steele. “A slightly oxidised and acidic red can balance sweeter flavours while bringing a textural element.”

Next time your drinks list is in need of a refresh, experiment with a bottle of red and create a drink that’s sure to be a unique addition to the menu, bringing body and balance to the table