Summer in a Glass

Sangria screams summer. The easy, breezy concoction of wine, spirit and an ample dose of fruit pleases operators and guests alike. Busy bartenders appreciate that it can be batched in advance, simply splashed over ice and adorned with fresh berries, citrus or herbs. Wine and cocktail lovers are drawn to the beverage’s drinkability and eye-catching presentation. But this summer, why stop with Sangria? Operators around the country are blurring the lines of the traditional Spanish sipper and taking liberties with other fun wine-based libations — including wine coolers and grown-up slushies — that promise to quench patrons’ thirsts and pump up profits during the dog days of summer.

So what exactly constitutes Sangria? Historically, it’s a combination of a fruity, light red wine, brandy, sweetener, spices and sliced fresh fruit, although modern interpretations often stray from the original recipe — with unexpectedly delicious results.

“The commonplace idea of ‘Sangria’ is a sort of wine punch,” notes Adam Bernbach, beverage manager for Spanish hot spot Estadio, as well as wine-centric restaurant Proof in Washington, D.C. “People are enticed by the refreshing idea of fruits and herbs infused in chilled, crisp wine.”

Adam Bernbach

Adam Bernbach, beverage manager of Estadio and Proof in Washington, D.C., creates unusual Sangria concoctions.

Drawing on the venue’s Spanish influence, Bernbach’s duo of Sangrias on Estadio’s menu eschews a traditional brandy base in favor of other spirits. He mixes cachaça with lime, mint and red wine in a version that’s inspired by the book “City of God” by Paulo Lins, set in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, which refers to mixing the Brazilian national spirit with Vermouth. Bernbach’s white Sangria uses four of his favorite ingredients: Tequila, rosemary, cinnamon and apples. Both versions are priced at $6.

When experimenting with ingredients for Sangria riffs, Bernbach says the most important thing to focus on — as with all cocktails — is balance.

“Things like acid, spirits and sugar will strongly affect the Sangria in one direction or the other,” he says.

First select a base and consider its aromas and flavors; additional components will accentuate these attributes.

Substituting cachaça or tequila for brandy in Sangria nudges the drink away from its roots while still retaining Spanish flair. But what if your venue touts another focus, theme or cuisine? Carmine’s is a family-style, value-driven Italian restaurant operation with five locations — two in New York and one in New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and the Bahamas. The corporate beverage director for New York City-based parent company Alicart Restaurant Group, Erin Ward reaches for Italian Vermouth for Carmine’s Molto Italiano Sangria ($9) and uncorks bottles of the concept’s private-label Trebbiano and Montepulciano.

“Sangria is such a refreshing and delicious way to enjoy wine,” Ward says. “It’s fun and not super serious — a cocktail of sorts but without the high-octane alcohol.”

Both versions are made with an eye on Italy, scented with Italian herbs and layered with citrus. Each is served in a 23-ounce individual punch bowl to ensure every guest receives the entire garnish of goodies.

Served in fun single-serving glass pitchers, Sangria also is popular at the 30 locations of Jimmy Buffett’s tropical-themed Cheeseburger in Paradise.

“It’s a great option for someone who drinks wine but isn’t in a wine environment as well as for someone who likes sweeter cocktails but is not really a wine drinker,” explains Monica McGill, vice president of beverage and training for the Tampa, Fla.-based Paradise Restaurant Group.

Cheeseburger in Paradise currently offers four takes with three different varietal wines, including Blackberry Sangria, which combines Chardonnay, lemon, blackberry and Fresca. McGill says Sangria sales have increased over the past several years, and she plans to add to the menu frozen versions that use SKYY Infusions Ginger and Bacardi Torched Cherry.

“You can have a lot of fun playing around with these,” she says.

Speaking of fun, Bernbach’s Slushitos ($9) at Estadio prove adults haven’t outgrown the slushie machine. Just the antidote to the oppressive heat and humidity common in some regions, eclectic combinations such as cranberry, Cava, anise-infused gin and lime or grapefruit, sherry, chamomile-infused bourbon and lemon are essentially frozen wine punches.


Adam Bernbach's Estadio Slushito.

“Their dilution and chilling is achieved not by shaking or stirring ice into a drink but freezing the water within the drink,” he explains.

Venues without a frozen drink machine still can make slushies by mixing and freezing a batch, then churning it back to a slushy consistency. Bernbach plans a coconut and cava version for later this summer.

Although the term “wine cooler” often invokes thoughts of the cloyingly sweet bottled beverages popular in the 1980s, Ward is trying hard to extinguish that connotation at Virgil’s Real Barbecue in Times Square, part of the Alicart Restaurant Group.

“The Virgil’s Wine Cooler is something that I have been thinking about and working on for a while,” she says.

She explains the creations are similar to the coolers of 20 or 25 years ago — brought back and created in an all-natural, fresh way — and plans to highlight fruits, such as peaches, watermelon and strawberries, as they come to market.

When offering traditional or modern Sangria or a wine cocktail or cooler, Ward recommends selecting wine at a moderate price point: It will be blended with so many layers of flavor that a high-end selection will be lost in the mix. She recommends avoiding any bottles that have assertive flavors (such as a super grassy Sauvignon Blanc) as well as those that have had a big dose of oak (such as a big, oaky Chardonnay). Low-tannin, fruit-forward reds (such as Rioja, Barbera or Beaujolais) and crisp, subtle whites (such as Pinot Grigio, Frascati or Vinho Verde) will complement, rather than overshadow, the cocktail’s other ingredients.

In summer drinks, wine can enhance flavors, lighten a drink’s body, modify stronger components or all of the above. Adding to your menu a fruit-filled goblet of Sangria, a modern take on a decades-old drink or a frozen slushie that’s decidedly for grown-ups has broad appeal in the summertime. Such libations are geared toward wine lovers, patrons whose palates gravitate toward sweeter, easy-drinking cocktails as well as any guests seeking relief when the heat is on. NCB


Unusual Sangria concoctions are on the drink menu at Estadio.


Entice Guests With a Chilly Antidote to Summer Heat

White Sangria with Tequila
Courtesy of Adam Bernbach, beverage manager of Estadio and Proof in Washington, D.C.
1 liter white wine (a dry, unoaked white, such as Pinot Grigio)
1/3 liter rosemary-infused blanco tequila*
1/3 liter cinnamon syrup**
Apple slice for garnish
Mix all ingredients except garnish in a large pitcher. To serve, pour over ice and garnish with an apple slice.

* For the infused tequila, add a handful of bruised rosemary sprigs to a bottle of blanco tequila. Infuse for 24 hours or to taste, shaking occasionally. Strain out solids.

** For the cinnamon syrup, combine sugar and water in a 1:1 ratio in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and add several cinnamon sticks. Steep until the desired flavor is obtained. Strain out solids, and store in the refrigerator for up to several weeks.

Carmine’s Molto Italiano Red Sangria
Courtesy of Erin Ward, corporate beverage director of Alicart Restaurant Group.
4 750-ml bottles of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Ward uses Carmine’s private label, but you can substitute any good-quality bottle.)
¼ cup Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
¼ cup Monin Wildberry Fruit Purée
¾ cup peach liqueur (Massenez Crème de Pêche or another)
1¾ cups Cinzano Sweet Vermouth
¾ cup lemon juice
1¼ cups simple syrup
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Rosemary sprigs, orange twists and red-grape clusters for garnishes
Mix all ingredients except garnishes in a large pitcher. To serve, pour into large wine glasses filled with ice. Garnish with rosemary, orange twists and red grapes.


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