Fortify Your Menu with Wine-based Cocktails

These beauties are destined to become fantastic Oregon wine that may end up in a creative cocktail. Image: AVCreations / iStock / Getty Images Plus

What can’t be put into a cocktail these days? Not much, mixologists are saying. Among them is Laura Kruming, bartender at Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago, who is adding table and fortified wines to her creations.

“It’s an excellent choice for cocktails, especially since the cocktail revolution has been going so strong for so long and I think we’re exhausting some of our modifiers,” she says. “Wine is always a go-to for me. I have a huge passion for wine, so why not use it in spirit-forward cocktails?”

While Kruming uses both table wine and fortified wine in cocktails, table wine is her favorite to add, she says, “because it’s not often used in cocktails.” But even more than that, she loves to replicate the flavor of table wines in her cocktails.


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For example, to reproduce a Barbera she might add port, fresh raspberry syrup, and fresh herbs “which will give it some of that spice people associate with Barbera,” she says. She also likes creating a Sauvignon Blanc flavor with a grassy ingredient, like cachaça, and grapefruit (from fresh fruit, grapefruit bitters or grapefruit liqueur).

Cocktails featuring wine are well accepted by customers at Sable, Kruming says. “For the most part it makes cocktails more accessible because while someone might not be familiar with certain spirits, they do know what Pinot Noir is, or what Chardonnay is. They think, ‘I love Pinot Noir, so I can’t see why I wouldn’t like this cocktail.’ And in an age when cocktails have so many obscure ingredients, it can be nice to recognize something.”

For the bar, the big challenge with cocktails featuring wine is the shelf stability of them. “With fortified wines you’re good for at least a week or maybe more, but table wines can go really fast, and Pinot Noir especially is one of these delicate wines that change immediately upon oxidation when you’ve opened it,” Kruming says.

To circumvent this problem, she tends to only include wine in her cocktails that the bar is already pouring by the glass or choose a wine the bar can offer by the glass while that cocktail’s being poured. In Kruming’s mind, there’s no unsuitable wine for a cocktail, though she wouldn’t use anything she wouldn’t drink as a wine in its own right, she says.

A dealer’s choice she likes to offer is a riff on a Manhattan. Traveler’s Terrace contains Yamazaki 12 Years Old single malt Japanese whisky, Plantation 5 Year rum, East India sherry, Chardonnay, apple, pickling juice, saffron and orange bitters.

Other wine cocktails include the best-selling Damn It Willamette (De Luze VS Cognac, Oregon state Pinot Noir, vanilla, lemon, Bittermens Burlesque Bitters); and The Stockyards (Siete Leguas Reposado Tequila, Boal Madeira, Luxardo Maraschino, demerara, Peychaud’s bitters). The latter, Kruming says, “uses one of my favorite wine ingredients – Madeira. It’s a more exciting fortified wine because it’s got the saltiness of sherry and is raisinated like port. It’s exotic and rich, and there are so many different ones.”

Sable Kitchen & Bar also serves the White Porto Tonico (white port, magnolia-scented kirschwasser, Q Tonic, frozen cherries), which she says is the drink of Porto, Portugal. “They use lower quality white ports, and it’s a quick, refreshing, easy cocktail. I wanted to dress it up and make it really refreshing so put in magnolia essence and some cherry kirsch from a small distillery, and some frozen whole cherries which act as ice cubes.”

And finally, there’s the Honeymoon Lookout, which ran last year for holiday season, and will likely be added to the bar’s Unforgettables menu, on which Sable Kitchen & Bar offers successful cocktails from prior years. This drink features Grey Goose vodka, tawny port, Mathilde Poire (pear liqueur), vanilla, lemon and Old Fashioned bitters. “We love to make our vodka cocktails as interesting as possible since it’s not usually a go-to for a complex spirit,” Kruming says. “This has lots of holiday themed deliciousness, including cinnamon flavor from the bitters.”


Damn It Willamette cocktail by Laura Kruming at Sable Kitchen & Bar - Wine cocktail recipes
Damn It Willamette
Recipe and image courtesy of Sable Kitchen & Bar
  • 1.5 oz. Cognac De Luze VS
  • 1.5 oz. Oregon Pinot Noir
  • 0.75 oz. Vanilla
  • 0.75 oz. Lemon
  • 1 dropper Bittermens Burlesque bitters
  • Champagne grapes

Shake all ingredients together, then strain into Collins glass over ice. Garnish with Champagne grapes.

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