During the warmer months when the mercury rises, bar guests crave refreshment — and wine-based drinks deftly fit the bill. Whether it’s used in an icy, fruit-filled pitcher of Sangria, a fun bubbly cocktail or a modern, well-crafted take on a cooler or spritzer, wine can be just divine in the summertime.
With its focus on fresh fruits, flavor complexity gained from hours of stirring and steeping and thirst-quenching method of serving (chilled, over ice), Sangria spells summer. At Mexican restaurant El Centro D.F., Chef Richard Sandoval’s Washington, D.C., outpost, Sangria is always a popular request at the bar. “Sangria as a whole fits well with our concept of bringing people together over drinks in a communal feel,” explains Bar Manager Michael Audi, who goes on to say that he and the rest of the bartenders typically select ingredients to echo the season. He recommends operators be unique to their own concepts when crafting Sangria recipes. “We use cinnamon, a common Mexican spice, but also throw in ingredients that we know will appeal to our regulars,” he says. Interesting, versatile components will make for the most crowd-pleasing beverages.
El Centro D.F., in Washington, D.C., offers Sangrias by the glass or carafe.
Currently, El Centro D.F. has four seasonal Sangrias on the menu, offered by the glass ($6), half carafe ($14) or full carafe ($26). Rosa Sangria eschews the traditional red or white wine in favor of a dry rosé mixed with lemon, lime, strawberry, mint and Veev Açai Liqueur; Especias Piña ramps up a fruity red wine with the addition of Pyrat Rum, fruit, cinnamon, clove and pineapple juice and chunks. Audi cites its advance preparation as the reason for Sangria being a bartender’s dream drink in a busy bar. “It’s as simple as the pre-batched mix, a fresh garnish and ice.”
On the patio of Square 1682 Restaurant & Lounge in Philadelphia, guests currently are sipping a Sangria flavor that’s mouthwatering, a little exotic — and good for you. “Kiwi is a wonderful fruit with naturally beneficial qualities — Vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants — whose name originates from a funky little bird of New Zealand,” muses General Manager Matt Rafferty. “We wanted to give this traditional Spanish drink some ‘wings’ and let it fly!” Square 1682’s Kiwi Sangria has a base of Pinot Grigio, Marie Brizard Peach Schnapps, Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth, fresh kiwis, raspberry and lime.
Although Spanish wines typically are used in traditional Sangria recipes — Rioja Tinto and Albariño, for example — Rafferty recommends considering the type of cuisine your venue serves when selecting wines for these pitcher pleasers. Lemony Pinot Grigio, zesty Sauvignon Blanc or effervescent Moscato would work nicely for white Sangria; cherry- and raspberry-tinged domestic Pinot Noir mixes well in red. And while he also touts the convenience of prepping Sangria in advance — marinating it overnight will meld the flavors — he warns against keeping a batch too long. Discarding a batch after a day is better than retaining one with bruised and murky fruits and herbs, he says.
Bubbly Makes Wine Cocktails Sparkle
Using sparkling wine renders summer cocktails that are fresh and vibrant and showcases bubbly’s versatility. “They respond to so many different kinds of flavors — fruits, herbs and infusions,” says Mandy Oser, owner of Ardesia in New York. “Especially with summer around the corner, anything with bubbles is refreshing.”
Ardesia boasts 10 wine cocktails on its drinks menu. The Lost Tourist ($10) combines heady, floral Viognier with sparkling rosé, orange-nectarine, pomegranate and mint; “El Draque” adds muddled ginger and mint to sweet and unctuous PX (Pedro Ximénez) Sherry. Unsurprisingly, Oser says citrus and fresh herbs often find their way into grape-based libations during the warmer months and loves the endless possibilities of mixing with wine.
Wine Coolers Dress Up With Infused Syrups
The term “wine cooler” often conjures up images of sub-par, cloyingly sweet beverages out of a bottle. But awhile back, Owen Thomson, lead bartender for José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup, created decidedly more mature complex versions of the oft-ridiculed sip. Thomson infuses syrups with fruits, herbs and spices, then mixes them with wines possessing similar aromas and flavors. Spicy Gewürztraminer is an obvious choice for his Cherry Black Pepper Thyme syrup; an aromatic, peachy dry Riesling works nicely with Blackberry Sage syrup. “Wine varietals provide such a never-ending array of flavor profiles, and they should be treated as different ingredients,” he believes, playing off the other components in the same way a spirit does. Because the syrup is created in advance, mixing the drink is simple: A 2:1 or 3:1 wine-to-syrup ratio is added over ice, stirred and garnished.
A well-presented (and delicious) garnish is essential to a great summertime wine-based quaffer. For Sangria, Audi cautions against using shortcuts. “Don’t rely on the fruit soaking in the mix for a garnish — it’s better to use fresh garnishes to maintain quality.” Wine coolers and other wine-based libations also look and smell pretty when adorned with fresh fruit or herbs. For a striking and truly unique garnish, try Premium Cocktail Cranberries from Lounge Attire. Hand-sorted Pacific Northwest berries are packed and sold in 8-ounce jars for $12.95. Popping several into a sparkling wine cocktail will make them dance around the flute; skewering them on a cocktail pick adds visual appeal to a cooler or cobbler.
Before grabbing the shaker this summer, head for the wine rack. Beating the heat has never been easier.
Want the recipes? Check out "Refreshing Sangria Recipes to Beat the Heat" at Nightclub.com.