On a hot and humid day, a glass of wine—particularly red wine—can be a hard sell. Customers want to refresh their palates with a chilled, crisp drink. But for those who have trouble choosing between a cocktail or a glass of wine, a wine spritzer is the perfect solution. Whether it’s Prosecco, seltzer water, or club soda that adds the bubbles, this flavorful cocktail is also an ideal beverage to launch a night out.
“It’s a good stand-alone drink, right before dinner. It opens your palate up,” says Dan Lynch, bar manager at Area Four in Boston, about wine spritzers. “Apple Discord,” a wine spritzer he developed as an ode to Greek mythology, is served in a highball glass and is highly aromatic. It’s the “lightest drink” on the cocktail list and has been served since opening day earlier this year.
Because Area Four is on the ground floor of Troy Boston, a luxury-apartment community in the city’s South End, Lynch worked hard to create a spritzer that would earn repeat clientele from its residents. It also had to pair well with the menu. Many items are cooked in a clay oven—including the pizzas that Area Four is known for.
A key ingredient for the chosen pairing is North County Apple Brandy. “It gives it a little bit more heat and [makes it] a little more boozy,” Lynch says. The process for creating this spritzer started with a desire to develop a drink using vermouth. Fresh-squeezed lemon juice “makes it brighter” and “palate-cleansing,” while the darker sugar is Lynch’s choice as it melts better with vermouth. The drink also features Angostura bitters. Hints of citrus in the cuisine match up to the “slightly herbaceous, sweet vermouth,” says Lynch. “It goes well with anything. It’s not too overpowering.”
A wine spritzer doesn’t have to be resigned to just the evening hours. Because of its lighter flavor profile and lower alcohol content, Robbie Wilson—restaurant manager at Urban Farmer, a steakhouse inside a Portland, Oregon, hotel (The Nines)—started to promote a wine spritzer for weekday lunches as a “low-alcohol cocktail.” Called “The Big Question,” and born out of extensive trial and error between Wilson and other management, it’s served in a white wine glass and garnished with a slice of orange. The drink features a California wine called Conundrum White. While each year the grape composition in the wine’s blend changes, it’s always “a very fruit-forward, gentle wine that doesn’t dominate and is light,” says Wilson. Cognac, triple sec, citrus blend, and sparkling soda are also used.
He expects “The Big Question” to be very popular this summer after a successful test launch in February. “The wine becomes a bridge between that and any supporting actors—the citrus, etc.,” Wilson says.
Sometimes the wine becomes the catalyst for the spritzer. Martha Militello, manager of Hunt Club Steakhouse in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, was looking for a way to push rosé sales in this resort community that’s popular with Chicagoans. “I’ve always been a fan of rosé, and they were tough to sell in the market for a few years,” she says.
On the menu since late 2016, “The Hunt Club Rosé Spritzer” features rosé wine and CelloVia blueberry lavender limoncello, topped with seltzer, and garnished with a lemon twist. It’s served over ice in a white wine glass.
Militelo expects to keep it on the menu year-round. “It’s got a little bit more body (than a rosé), and limoncello gives it a little more depth,” Militello says. But she doesn’t use just any rosé when making this spritzer. She seeks out one that is full on flavor, a departure from the light, Provencal-style rosé she usually turns to as a by-the-glass option. “For the spritizer, I would use a rosé of Malbec, Pinot Noir, or Cabernet Sauvignon,” Militello says, “with depth, color, or weight.”
For any new drink on the menu, promoting the offering is crucial to its long-term success. If a drink does well, it might stay on the menu; otherwise, falling flat means it won’t.
New drinks are also an easy way to create buzz and are often reasons for drinkers and diners to revisit old haunts. Jessica Burkins, general manager of The Lobster Place and Cull & Pistol Oyster Bar (both in New York City), gave the venues’ new spritzer a catchy name she knew would spawn interest on social media. “Who Gives A Spritz?” The drink, which has Cappelletti, blood orange, and club soda, was inspired by heated, political debates the employees noticed happening around them—often at the bar—last fall and into winter. Customers who order it are encouraged to use the #whogivesaspritz hashtag on social media. Mixologists at both The Lobster Place and Cull & Pistol also enjoy promoting the drink. “The fun name makes it easy to talk to guests about it,” Burkins notes.
It was the mixologists’ whimsy and creativity that gave birth to the drink. Every three to four weeks, Burkins hosts tastings for the mixologists to pitch their latest recipes to other staff, along with the results of costing it out, as prelude to adding it on the cocktail list. A married couple who work at the restaurants as mixologists were the ones who came up with “Who Gives A Spritz?” After trying different sparkling wines in the recipe, they found that Prosecco offered the best flavor profile. Da Mar, a Prosecco producer already featured on the wine list as a by-the-glass and bottle option, was perfectly suited. “The Prosecco kept it really bright,” says Burkins, while Spanish Cava resulted in a “weighty, heavy” profile, not conducive to daytime drinking—or the menu.
“Our cocktail list is always inspired by the simplicity in our food. It’s always important to stay fresh, light, and bright,” says Burkins, alluding to the numerous shellfish and raw bar menu items. Given that the restaurants are inside Chelsea Market, a popular spot for both the lunch crowd and tourists, it was also important to offer daytime drinks.