Local wine trends: Wine cocktails on the rise

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JP Chenet, a big French wine supplier has their Fresh Fruit Explosion series.

WINE cocktails, where wine is used as the main alcohol base for cocktails, has always been popular in bars, especially with the likes of Sangria, Mimosa, Bellini, and Calimocho being fixtures in cocktail menus, not only domestically but internationally.

When these wine cocktails are made available as RTDs (ready-to-drink) and displayed in retail stores, they are placed in the wine section. And because wine consumption is quite low in the country, wine cocktails actually compete with regular wines in the eyes of consumers and marketers.

Since 2020, during and after the COVID pandemic, sales of wine cocktails RTDs have been on the rise.

THE WINE COCKTAILS AND THEIR MIXTURESI will give a brief background of each of the wine cocktails.

Sangria is Spanish in origin, but the European Union (EU) also recognized this wine cocktail in Portugal.

Many versions of sangria already exist, but what I found most delectable is when you use 1/3 Spanish wine, preferably a tempranillo varietal and best minimally oaked (joven or young: wine basically), 1/3 orange juice, and 1/3 Sprite to add fizz and sweetness. Ornament the drink with tiny, chopped apples and served with plenty of ice.

Mimosa, which is most likely a French creation, is simply a blend of orange juice with champagne and served like champagne in a fluted glass.

Bellini is an Italian creation blending Prosecco, Italy’s most popular sparkling wine, with peach juice or peach puree. But the Bellini has recently been served with a more reddish color for aesthetics, and when this is done pomegranate juice and strawberry puree are used instead of peach.

Calimocho — or Kalimotxo in Basque — is Spanish in origin and is simply a wine cocktail made with equal parts of a cola-based soft-drink and red wine.

THE PRECURSOR TO THE WINE COCKTAIL RENAISSANCEIn the late 1990s, American wine giants Constellation Brands and E&J Gallo Winery released their versions of wine cocktails via Arbor Mist and Wild Vines respectively.

This was an Arbor Mist-created category back then, this concept of wine with fruit infusion, and it was a huge hit in its early stages. The target markets were young adults and non-wine drinkers transitioning from soft drinks to wines.

E&J Gallo Winery then joined in with their Wild Vines, and from a niche market, it became a full-grown category in the early 2000s. Flavors like Blackberry Merlot, Black Cherry Cabernet Sauvignon, Peach Chardonnay, and Strawberry White Zinfandel became popular “pseudo-wine’ labels.

Back in the early 2000s, these wine cocktails cost less than regular wines and were just around P150/bottle. Then this category entered the doldrums for over a decade or so, and perhaps it was because of the higher prices, now at around P375 to P424 a bottle. This category not only stagnated but dropped.

In 2021, E&J Gallo bought the Arbor Mist brand from Constellation Brands.

SPANISH SANGRIA LEADING THE WAYThis category however would be rescued by Sangria. While the best-selling wine brand in the Philippines, Carlo Rossi from E&J Gallo, had a version of Sangria way back in the early 2000s, it was the newer Sangria from Spain that revived interest in it as a wine cocktail RTD.

Lolea, Carolina, 49 Millions, and Fortunella Sangria are some of the brands that are now available in the country. All these wines are imported from Spain.

Lolea in particular is quite popular, and even during the pandemic, this brand of RTD Sangria could be seen all over social-media platforms. Originally imported by Happy Living Philippines Corp. back in 2019, this premium RTD Sangria made an auspicious impact in the market despite its being relatively pricey — again, this is a Sangria, a form of wine cocktail, not a wine.

First, the packaging is attractive with a modern design and bright splashy colors. Then the bottle is closed with a crown cap which has a unique built-in swing closure, that means you can save unfinished wine.

Aside from sangrias, other brands like Californian Sutter Home and French JP Chenet also have their versions of wine cocktails. Sutter Homes has its Fruit Infusion range, while JP Chenet has its Fresh Fruit Explosion series.

Adding more sparkle to the category (pun intended) is leading Champagne and fashion house LVMH who joined this exciting low-alcohol wine cocktail category with their Chandon Garden Spritz from their Argentine winery. The Garden Spritz is made from a traditional sparkling wine blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but with some Semillon, and blended with natural extracts from hand-picked orange peels, herbs, and spices (as their website indicates).

All of these make a very dynamic category. Only time will tell if it is just a fad or will end up a serious “pseudo-wine” category to contend with. From a strictly wine geek point of view, I am amazed at how this category of wine cocktails is shaping up, as more players join the field, and consumers seem to be buying into this despite relatively stiff prices.

Perhaps, this could be good for the real wine market, as wine cocktails appear at first as simply a transition stage for non-wine drinkers to become wine drinkers. Or it could morph into a serious category for consumers who prefer lower alcohol, fruitier and sweeter versions of wine.

In my opinion, wine cocktails are refreshing and a great aperitif, but I can easily make them myself — especially if the wine or sparkling wine I have is not that good, is tiring, and needs a fruity boost. But drinking the RTD version is something I personally don’t, get especially from a pricing point of view. But that’s just me.

Sherwin A. Lao is the first Filipino wine writer member of both Bordeaux-based Federation Internationale des Journalists et Ecrivains du Vin et des Spiritueux (FIJEV) and the UK-based Circle of Wine Writers (CWW). For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, wine consultancy and other wine related concerns, e-mail the author at wineprotege@gmail.com, or check his wine training website https://thewinetrainingcamp.wordpress.com/services