There’s no better time than the summer to introduce cool, shareable pitchers of sangria to guests. Sangrias offer the perfect vehicle for getting creative with local produce and bar specials. Master the basics, and move on to incorporating seasonal fruits and inventive wines for a unique, captivating thirst-quencher.
Start with a classic
All basic sangrias begin the same way— a few favorite fruits and a bottle of wine. Mike Jones, restaurant manager at Chef Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico Steakhouse at the Venetian Las Vegas, begins his recipe with chopped apples, rind-on oranges, and a pear, mixed with ½ cup brandy, and a bottle of dry red wine. He muddles the fruit in a pitcher, adds the wine and brandy, and refrigerates it overnight to then serve over ice with a splash of soda water or Sprite the next day.
Choosing a wine
Red is the traditional sangria wine, but red or white wines are great for sangria. “Typically, the best wines for sangria are low in tannins and fruit-forward. The most popular wines to use are Tempranillo and Garnacha; these easy-drinking Spanish varietals lend themselves well to a balanced sangria,” Jones says. “Wines to avoid are tannic such as Cabernet Sauvignon and high-acid wines like Pinot Noir. Rich, full-bodied wines tend to be too heavy when used in sangria, since it already has depth, with acid from the citrus and other fruits.”
“We like fresh, lively, fruit-forward wines,” says Gerald Pulsinelli, vice president of development at Charlotte, North Carolina-based Firebirds Restaurants. “We use 7 Moons Red Blend for our red sangria and Caposaldo Moscato for the white sangria.”
Traditional sangria fruits include oranges, lemons, apples, pears, and plums, but local, seasonal fruits can always be swapped in. At Firebirds, Pulsinelli says, “we use oranges, limes, lemons, and [local] cherries to pair with our red and white sangria.” At Alexxa’s Bar in Las Vegas, where nine sangria varieties are available by glass, pitcher, or in a flight, general manager Melody Han says, “We love whatever is in season. Berries are the easiest fruit to get the most flavor, along with stone fruits and citrus.”
“Flavor combinations can make or break even the simplest of sangrias, so choosing your ingredients and trusting your palate is important,” Han says. If a second opinion is needed, check with staff before serving anything to guests. Another easily avoidable mistake is the use of old or out-of-date wines, according to Pulsinelli. Wines should always be tasted before being added to a sangria pitcher.
When it’s time to get bold with sangrias, try differing types of wines, liquors, and fruit combinations. “Mix it up and have fun! Sangria is all about bringing people together,” Han says. “We have a Strawberry Basil Summer Fling Sangria that does just that, along with our Chef’s Whim that includes watermelon and aloe.”
Pulsinelli agrees that it’s important to have fun and experiment to see what fits a restaurant’s concept. “I’ve seen some restaurants that offer a daily sangria, where they use different wines and fruits every day,” he says.
“Keeping sangrias refrigerated, you can hold them for three to five days, depending on which ingredients you’ve selected,” Han says. “We like to keep it fresh, tasting them every day to make sure we are only serving the best quality product.”
Pairing with the menu
Traditionally, sangria is paired with Spanish tapas, but Han says that sangria also pairs well with grilled or fried dishes such as fried calamari and grilled fish. Pulsinelli likes pairing sangria with shareable appetizers such as Firebirds’ Fired Up Shrimp and Wood Grilled Shrimp shareables, as well as the restaurant’s Colorado Chicken Salad.
Marketing for more sales
To draw more attention to sangria on a menu, feature enticing specials and bottomless beverage options. “Happy hour, in addition to brunch and lunch pairings, have always been the biggest sellers for sangria,” Jones says. “Guests look for the ‘all-you-can-drink’ or bottomless deals, which provide the best value. At Delmonico, we currently offer a bottomless sangria option paired with our weekend lunch trio menu for $55. Or, guests can enjoy bottomless sangria for $17 with the purchase of an entree.”