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Pitcher perfect winter wine cocktails

Wine is not just for wine glasses. It can fill a cocktail glass with a deliciously festive, pleasingly refreshing and artful spirit.

When using wine as a base for a cocktail it’s easy to create pitcher cocktails to welcome guests. This makes it easy for the host as they aren’t constantly having to mix up different drinks, plus it offers up conviviality, conversation and community through a shared beverage. And that’s what wine is all about, sharing.

For a cold cocktail, chill the pitcher first. Place fruit, berries, herbs, etc., at the bottom, then pour in wine. Then, instead of putting ice in the wine cocktail, I prefer to have the more concentrated form in the pitcher, and keep ice cubes or crushed ice with tongs in a chilled bucket next to it. The ice adds to the chill, but also dilutes the drink. This way guests can choose how much ice they’d like in their drink.

To make flavored ice cubes, such as light orange juice or lime, add a bit of liqueur when freezing the cubes, or make cubes of orange, rose or lavender waters tp add a subtle hint of flavor. Offer garnishes appropriate for the cocktail, such as fruit, berries, herbs or candies such as peppermint or lemon drops that melt slowly into the drink. Provide soda water and sparkling wine for that festive fizz. Use transparent stemless glassware so the gaiety of color and garnishes show through.

Another idea is to use a wine being served with dinner to get the flavor profile started. One thing to keep in mind is the base of these cocktails is wine, so choose a good one. Also, any ingredient added must be chosen to enhance the flavor of the wine, not compete with or take away from the wine.

Here are some wine-based cocktails that are easy to make for pitcher perfect drinks.

Albariño Mint Julep: This simple cocktail is a light and refreshing way to start an evening. Combine a bottle of albariño with crème de pêche (to taste), then pour over crushed ice. Garnish with a sprig of mint and hang a candy cane over the rim.

Bicicletta: This classic Italian aperitivo calls for two of Italy’s favorites: dry white wine (consider soave, pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc) and campari, which adds a touch of bitter and beauty. Pour cocktail over ice, splash with soda water or prosecco, then garnish with two orange wheels.

Sangria Day is Dec. 20, but sangria is wonderful for group sharing anytime. For the winter chill, this recipe will warm your soul.

Sparkling Cranberry Sangria

1 cup fresh cranberries

1 sliced orange

3 cinnamon sticks

1 bottle good red wine

3 shots of brandy or cognac

1½ cups orange juice (to taste)

3-4 cups cranberry juice (enough to fill the pitcher)

1-2 cups club soda or sparkling wine

Place fresh cranberries, sliced orange and cinnamon sticks in the bottom of a large pitcher.

Pour the wine, orange juice and cranberry juice over the fruit and cinnamon.

Stir and allow to chill for at least two hours for best flavor.

Pour sangria into glasses to ¾ full, splash with bubbly. Add cinnamon stick and anise star for garnish.

Merry, merry!

Reach Paula Bandy at pbthegrapevine@gmail.com and connect with her on Instagram at @pbthroughthegrapevine.