An Entertainer’s Guide to Mulled Wine, Sangria and Wine-Based Cocktails

cocktailLooking for a fresh, new beverage to serve at your next party or friendly get-together? Don’t limit your choice of beverages at a dinner or house party to the old standards of beer and wine. Instead, branch out to wine-based drinks. They’re sophisticated, delicious and easy to make. Plus, the fact that they’re lower in alcohol than standard cocktails means that your guests may feel free to enjoy “just one more glass.”

We’ll look at some tips, ideas and simple instructions for delicious wine-based drinks, but first a note on choosing the best wine as an ingredient. Though some say that you can get away with a lower-quality wine when mixing it with other ingredients, that’s not really the truth.The best-selling and affordable red wines on the market are often good choices because they will be both flavorful and have a good body behind them. As a bonus, should you have any wine left over after the party, it will be nicer to drink the higher quality bottles.

Mulled Wine

Are you still feeling winter’s chill? Not just reserved for the holidays, mulled wine is always a good choice in nippy weather. In fact, it’s been a popular winter beverage since the time of the Romans. Now that’s a talking point for your next party!

Though most mulled wine is made with table reds, you can also heat up a batch of it using port, white wine or fruit wine. The simple recipes for mulled wine require only wine and a few spices, but you can get more inventive. British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, for example, adds in citrus fruits, bay leaves and powdered sugar.

Pair your mulled wine with strong cheeses, quiche or other savories.


Nothing says “fiesta” like a beautiful pitcher of sangria. This refreshing mix of wine with fruit, brandy, sugar and sparkling water or soda, is so crisp and fruity tasting that you can almost swear it’s a health drink.

In Spain, where it originates, sangria is made with red or white wine, though we seem to see it more often in red in the U.S. It’s best to pick a dry wine for your sangria base so that the flavor isn’t completely taken over by any citrus fruit you add to it and it doesn’t end up too sour. You can use almost any fruit in your sangria, though the traditional choices are oranges and apples. Small squares of watermelon can be particularly nice flavor additions.

For a variant, if you prefer a bit of kick to your drinks, add some vodka or gin while mixing your batch of sangria. Serve with steak, Mexican burritos or tacos, or another rich dish.

Bellinis and Mimosas

If you prefer to keep your red wines for the table and serve sparkling wines as an aperitif, Bellini and mimosas are fun, sophisticated cocktails to serve, especially at brunch. A traditional Bellini requires Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) and peach nectar, though you may have fun improvising. Mimosas, on the other hand, blend Champagne and orange juice for a light, refreshing and vitamin-filled cocktail. Grapefruit mimosas, though less common, are also a nice mix.

Serve Bellinis and mimosas before the meal, preferably with lightcanapes or crudite.


Another Champagne-based cocktail is the Barracuda, and, like the animal it’s named for, it comes with a bite. One of the official cocktails of the International Bartender’s Association (IBA), the Barracuda incorporates rum and Galliano with pineapple, lime juice and sparkling wine. You can take some freedom with this recipe—though the IBA recommends Prosecco, the vodka company Absolut recommends Champagne.

Cocktails mixed with hard alcohol are usually best served after dinner is finished. If you are having an after-dinner party, the Barracuda will go down well with savory snacks, including smoked nuts.

Invent Your Own

One fun activity for an adults-only party is to have a cocktail-making competition. See what delicious concoctions you can make using wine as a base. Use as your inspiration the San Francisco Sangaree, made from merlot, bourbon and cherries. Or, try the Mamarita, with tequila, cabernet sauvignon and Triple Sec.

By the time you sample all of the fun cocktails your guests make, you’ll have experienced so many flavors you won’t want to add any complicated food. Pretzel sticks or water crackers may do well for nibbles.

Serving a wine-based drink at your next party will impress your guests and add nuance to your menu. Give it a try!

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