By James Atkinson
Hunter Valley winemakers may have raised their eyebrows when local bar manager Jamie Walker (below right) began using their wines in his cocktails, but he says the concept is taking off.
Walker, of Goldfish Hunter Valley, told TheShout the idea of wine-based cocktails came from his experience bartending in fine dining restaurants with cocktail bars attached in his native home of Scotland.
"I used to have to work on my wine knowledge while working on my spirits knowledge," he said.
"Vermouths came into it quite a lot, when you're making gin martinis you realise they are all wine-based."
Walker, who relocated from Goldfish's Sydney venue last year, said the Hunter location had given him the opportunity to do something different.
"I had a huge arsenal of wines to play around with, and a lot more information on wine than I'd ever had before," he said.
"So I started to match flavours and it all erupted from there."
As well as creating drinks that were local and unique, Walker said the lower alcohol wine-based cocktails on the menu were well suited to the bar's rural location, which is only accessible by car.
"Wine's a fantastic option for lowering the ABV of your cocktail, and it's got so many different, beautiful flavour combinations," he said.
"White wines with gins and vodkas and liqueurs work very well. Obviously with your darker reds, you can start adding whisky, rums, and then you've got your dessert wines which are fortified, they tend to work really well with richer spirits that have a slight residual sweetness to start."
He said he's lucky to be friendly with lots of local winemakers who drink at the bar, and have been very helpful in giving him their ideas on what they think he should do.
"And sometimes what they think I should try and avoid!"
Walker told TheShout that a few of the Hunter's "old guard" were at first sceptical of the concept, but many have since come round to the idea.
He said they understand the value of putting younger drinkers, or people who wouldn't normally drink wine, onto Hunter wines.
Wine-based cocktails – Jamie Walker's recipes:
Summer of Semillon: 60ml Hunter Valley Semillon (he used Andrew Thomas Braemore), 5ml Aperol, 2.5ml sugar syrup, 10ml lemon juice and 1 inch diced cucumber. Muddle cucumber and shake all ingredients, double strain into a Champagne flute and top with Tonic water. Serve with a cucumber spear garnish.
Kilted Ambrosia (pictured left): 30ml Johnnie Walker Gold, 30ml Tempus Two Tempranillo, 20ml lemon juice, 15ml fig and black chocolate syrup, 5ml Heering Cherry Liqueur, fresh egg white. Shake and double strain into a flute glass straight up, or a rocks glass over ice, served with shaved dark chocolate garnish.
Recipes for more of Jamie's wine-based cocktails will be featured in the March/April issue of bars and clubs magazine.