Sangria has come a long way since it was introduced to the United States, which is said to have happened at the Pavilion of Spain at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City.
Bartenders are now experimenting with this beverage and adapting it from its traditional base of red Bordeaux wine, chopped fruits and sometimes a small amount of brandy.
Two Southern California bars are going an extra step with sangria and offering several varieties.
Cafe 21 is a lounge in San Diego’s Gaslamp neighborhood (with a second in the city’s University Heights area) offering flights of four sangrias, which change every couple of days.
Cafe 21 Past Sangria Varieties
The organic sangrias are prepared daily from herbs that grow behind the bar in a living herb wall, and seasonal hand-squeezed juices.
Varieties have included:
- Kiwi pear red wine sangria
- Pumpkin spice sangria
- Persimmon plum red wine sangria
- Sage, tangerine and blackberry sangria
- Blood orange-pineapple white wine sangria
The most popular to-date has been a tangerine blackberry and lavender, which sold out completely. Traditional sangria is always available and is another favorite, says head mixologist Louis Chavez, and another hit is the tropical sangria with mango, pineapple and kiwi.
Sangria Flight from Cafe 21
The sangrias are prepared daily and kept in six three-gallon glass dispensers, “which are one of the first things customers see as they enter the bar,” says Chavez. The beverages are left for flavors to infuse for 48 hours before they’re served.
The sangria is popular year-round but especially in the summer, he points out, and is particularly popular at the late-night (9pm until closing) happy hour.
The tasting flight, which is the most popular way to drink sangria here, features four ounces of each of the six sangrias, and costs $10.50 ($21 not during happy hour). By the glass sangria costs $4.50 ($9 at other times) and $10.50 by the carafe ($21 before happy hour).
The red-wine based sangrias are most popular in the winter months and the whites during the summer, even though San Diego’s climate is similar year-round, Chavez says.
The Lazy Dog Restaurant and Bar, a 14-location Southern California chain based out of Huntington Beach, offers three sangrias year-round—one red, one white, one rosé.
Sangria from Lazy Dog Restaurant
For the summer there’s a white peach sangria (peach juice, white wine and peach brandy), a blackcurrant rosé sangria (rosé wine, cassis and raspberry puree) and a pomegranate red sangria (pomegranate juice, fruity red wine and straight brandy), “which gives it the backbone,” says executive chef Gabe Caliendo.
Sangria Flight from Lazy Dog Restaurant
He experiments with the rosé most frequently because the other two have a very strong following and this fall he’ll switch it out to a raspberry muscato sangria.
Sangria is served by the glass ($7.50 or $4 at happy hour), pitcher ($18.50) or sampler (six ounces of each for $8.50).
The white peach sangria is the most popular, followed by the red, and “they’re well-liked by men and women,” says Caliendo. “You’d think more women would drink it because it’s on the sweeter side but there are quite a few men drinking it. But overall, I’d say men drink more of the red.”