They were the “it” yuppie drink of the 1980s and the joke drink of the 1990s. The California Cooler or more broadly, the wine cooler, took off commercially in the mid-1980s like a rocket. The fruity flavors, high levels of sweetness, low alcohol levels and carbonation made the drinks accessible to two very important markets: young adults and women. In 1991, Congress changed the way wine was taxed and companies no longer saw wine coolers as profitable (malt-based coolers such as Zima were introduced at this time to avoid the wine tax) and the public soon lost interest.
But with the summer heat in full swing, there’s no denying the appeal of light, fruity, low-alcohol drinks that can be served very cold. Nice thing is, homemade wine coolers are easy to make and actually taste a lot better than the commercially produced ones of the 1980s.
The key ingredients of the wine cooler are inexpensive wine (usually white), clear lemon-lime soda (like Sprite or 7-Up) and fruit juice. This is where the fun and creativity begins. Fruit juices give the wine cooler its color and main flavor. A grocery store shelf will reveal all sorts from apple, white grape, orange, and lemon, to peach, cucumber, strawberry, kiwi, and lime.
The basic recipe is:
- 2 ounces inexpensive white wine
- 2 ounces fruit juice
- 2 – 4 ounces clear soda
Additional items can include:
- fresh fruit
- lemon or lime wedges
Practice makes perfect and a little careful experimentation will allow you to adjust the percentages of wine/juice/soda to your preferences. Fresh fruit can be added as a garnish and lemon or lime can be squeezed in to really perk up the flavors.
Wine Cooler Variations
Wine coolers can be made dry or sweet. For dry variations, any fruit juice will work, with exceptional favorites including cucumber, lime and cranberry. Orange, strawberry, white grape and apple go well with sweeter coolers (more soda). For the sweetest palates (and perhaps for the most acidic/bitter wine), a teaspoon of sugar can be dissolved in the wine before the colder soda and fruit juice are added.
Further variations allow for rosé or blush wine, both work well with the red fruit juices. Red wine can also be used, however, it doesn’t go that well with fruit juices such as cucumber, lime, orange, lemon and kiwi.
Coolers vs. Spritzers
The two terms have at times become somewhat confused and no doubt the wine cooler concept grew out of the already established spritzer. A spritzer is most basically wine and sparkling water or wine and club soda. It is therefore dryer than a cooler. Spritzers are still refreshing on warm days and for an added kick, small portions of vermouth, rum or gin can be added to give it more of a cocktail taste.
For more great easy wine cooler recipes that you can make at home, just Google “homemade wine coolers.”