In a variety of drinks, from shaken sours to built-in-glass coolers, wine syrups can add tons of complexity with very little effort. They are also problem-solvers: If you’ve got leftover wine at risk of going bad, this is your way to ensure it doesn’t meet the drain.
We make all of our wine syrups with a 1:1 ratio (equal parts wine to regular white sugar) combined in a saucepan set over very low heat on the stove; gentle heating is paramount to the process to help retain the flavor of the wine. For these syrups, be sure to avoid wines that have been aged in oak. Instead, choose those that offer a balance of fruit and acidity, with a strong aromatic profile—think gewürztraminer and sauvignon blanc for whites, and Sicilian frappato for reds. Those qualities will only be amplified in syrup form.
Here, five wine syrups and how to use them.
White Wine Syrup
Eric Alperin and Richard Boccato’s Clacson Spritz is what turned us on to wine syrups in the first place. Their simple low-proof riff on the Aperol Spritz is elevated by (in our case) a sauvignon blanc syrup. As mentioned above, the trick with white wine syrup is to go for an unoaked, high-acid, aromatic white wine; malvasia, gewürztraminer or sauvignon blanc.
While testing recipes for our forthcoming book with Drew Lazor, Session Cocktails, we repeatedly leaned on rosé syrup to add complexity to low-proof shaken drinks. It works particularly well in tandem with spirits like mezcal, tequila and gin, and as a means of doubling-down on rosé flavor in frosé.
Red Wine Syrup
A number of classic cocktails call on red wine as a base, from the addictive Kitty Highball to the Badminton Cup. But you can add texture (in the form of tannin) and complexity to drinks in smaller doses with a red wine syrup. Be sure to look for an unoaked, juicy red wine, such as inexpensive Beaujolais or frappato. Red wine syrup typically works well in drinks that lean on darker spirits, like bourbon or rum. You can even lose the float in the New York Sour by replacing simple with red wine syrup.
Orange Wine Syrup
The tea-like quality of orange wine works particularly well with tequila and aquavit, as well as sherry, dry vermouth and eau de vie. Think of it as adding texture (by way of tannins from skin-aging), acidity and, most importantly, savory qualities that are tough to find in other sweeteners.
The combination of dryness (which reads as perceived acidity) and salinity that manzanilla sherry offers carries through in syrup form—and it can add a whole lot of complexity in small doses. Think of it as both a sweetener and your pinch of salt.