When ordering a cocktail at a bar, customers are used to the main ingredient being a liquor such as gin, vodka, or tequila.

But more and more often, wine is being used to create a new drink of choice for customers, lower the alcohol content of cocktails, and enable bartenders to cut back on pouring too much straight liquor.

“When used in cocktails, wines reduce the need to add excessive amounts of alcohol (that can make a drink too boozy) and can add a softer sweetness than syrups,” said a report by Southern Glazer, the US’ largest distributor of drinks.

According to Forbes, 23% of bartenders said they’d use rosé in their cocktails. With rosé sales up 48% from last year, capitalizing on the popularity of the popularity of it and other wines makes sense for brands and bartenders.

Wine is getting new life as a cocktail ingredient – and no, we don’t just mean just spritzes. Let’s look at why.

What’s in that cocktail?

Customers are flocking toward lower-alcohol cocktails. The St. Germain Prosecco is one good example. Pour the St. Germain into a wine glass, add a few drops of Angostura bitters, then top with Santa Margherita Prosecco Superiore DOCG and garnish with a lemon slice.

If you picked too many apples at the apple orchard this fall, consider mixing an apple and mint wine cocktail. Muddle 10 mint leaves and 1 oz. apple juice in a cocktail shaker with 4 oz. of Croft Pink Port and ice. Then shake it and strain it into a glass. Finally, garnish it with a mint sprig and a few apple slices.

“What we know is that consumers now expect more complex and layered flavors in cocktails,” Brian Masilionis, director of on-trade national accounts at Southern Glazer’s, told The Drink Business. “However, while they want to be surprised and delighted, they still want to stay in their comfort zone.”

Wine achieves this balance for customers, by giving them a taste of something familiar mixed into new cocktails.

How Brands Are Responding

Southern Glazer’s report included fortified wines like ports and vermouths; subtle, nutty, or creamy sherries; sparkling wines that add bubbly texture; and crisp, clean red and white wines as ingredients in these new, lower-alcohol cocktails.

William Grant & Sons, a leader in the spirits industry, launched its own vermouth in July 2018 in order to capitalize on the growing trend.

William Grant is just one of many brands to launch vermouth in the last year, and even airlines are noticing the trend. Virgin Atlantic also partnered with non-alcoholic spirit maker Seedlip to offer a menu of lower ABV drinks to serve during flights.

What Your Brand Can Do

Wine and spirits distributors can capitalize on this trend without even having to launch any new products. Adding cocktail recipes to your wine labels could go a long way in helping customers see your products are more versatile. When working with restaurants, offer these recipes and ideas to bartenders and staff as well.

Restaurant owners, give your bartenders freedom to create new special cocktails that are off-menu and let customers try a bit for free. This will help excite both your staff and customers take advantage of this budding trend.

Meredith Galante