The wine cooler has a bit of an identity problem. Is it a wine spritzer? A wine cocktail? Sangria? And what about that wild-child moment in the ’80s when it was the hottest thing on the party scene?
Luckily, this cocktail conundrum is easily solved. As Gertrude Stein might put it, wine cooler is wine spritzer is wine cocktail is sangria. And the versions being whipped up today have nothing in common with the cheap, mass-produced products of 30 years ago (which thankfully went the way of shoulder pads).
“Mixology has been raised to this new cheflike heights, and wine, in a way, is the bartender’s hottest ingredient right now,” says Mike Dawson, senior editor at Wine Enthusiast. “Cutting-edge bartenders are taking these wine-based drinks to new heights, and creating these New Age coolers, along with countless variations of the sangria and classic wine cocktails like the New York Sour.”
Summer is the perfect time for wine coolers, since it’s the one time of year that even the most dedicated vinophile toys with dropping a fistful of ice in a glass.
Switching to a cooler makes wine “a little bit easier to drink,” says Chad Furuta of Del Frisco’s Grille in New York. At the Grille, bartenders are making spritzers with a house white wine, mixed with ginger ale or a lemon-lime soda and served with a lemon twist or wedge.
“Whether you want to call it wine cooler or spritzer, it really is a great summer drink,” he says.
What should you use when making your own wine coolers?
Well, don’t reach for the bottom-shelf wine that just doesn’t taste good, advises Cappy Sorentino, bar director of Spoonbar restaurant at the h2hotel in the wine country town of Healdsburg, Calif. On the other hand, don’t go crazy and uncork an expensive bottle of wine, either.