photo: Courtesy of Nick Flandro
Since I've worked crush season at a winery, my soul dies a little each time I see someone add ice and fruit to a finely crafted vino. For this reason, I've turned my nose up at sangria for years, but after a cup of the stuff at a hot summer fest, I'm now a full-fledged member of the sangria fan club. Wanna join? Membership is easy—just head to one of these spots for a frosty mug of this Spanish favorite:
Splurge at Vermilion
Sangria-buffs and wine-haters alike will adore Vermilion's upscale take on a classic drink. Its Herbed White Sangria ($10, glass; $35 for a pitcher) ups the ante on summertime cocktails. Dry white wine, brandy and Cointreau provide potency; mint and lemongrass give herbal kick; while juices from tamarind and passionfruit mingle with mandarin syrup and fresh lychee to build a refreshingly exotic profile. The whole thing is tied together with a splash of ginger beer, a trick that makes this one dangerous brew: you'll be halfway through the second pitcher before you remember that you're drinking something alcoholic.
Drink like a diva at Coobah
This Lakeview spot "acquired" its covetable sangria recipe from a friend in the Dominican Republic; we like to imagine that a covert spy mission, complete with boat chases, helicopter crashes and microfilms was necessary to transport the top-secret formula to the United States. The refreshing medley includes chunks of freshly cut fruit that marry perfectly with Spanish wine. If you're feeling particularly diva-like, step it up with a J-Lo—Coobah's lovely sangria frothed up with pineapple and served in a sugar-rimmed glass. So good, you'll forget that J-Lo is no longer a relevant member of the pop-culture elite. $6 for a glass, $18 for a pitcher, $7 for the J-Lo.
Indulge after a game at Twist
Who wants to muscle through the drunken Cubs fans swarming every sportsbar in Wrigleyville, when Twist's charming sidewalk patio beckons? This cozy tapas den keeps the enormous pitchers flowing (they're a liter each, that's equal to 1 1/3 bottles of wine) through the warm season. Specialty blends, often including mango, peach and guava versions, are kept in heavy-rotation, but the traditional stuff doesn't disappoint; generous chunks of fresh fruit, including lemons, find the perfect balance with a tasty red. For only $6.50, you get a pint glass full of the stuff, but if you're drinking with friends you'll want to order up a pitcher (or three) for $23.
Make a choice at Sangria
If you're going to name your restaurant Sangria, you better walk the walk—and this Clybourn Triangle spot does it with swagger. The casual vibe of this laid-back tapas joint likely comes from the copious quantities of boozy punch it serves up, and there's no skimping on variety. Sip on traditional rojo or try out one of the exciting flavors; white peach, raspberry, mango and cava-infused champagne are all on hand to wash down your paella. Grab a glass for $5.50, a half-pitcher for $12.95 or a whole pitcher for only $19.95.
Keep it simple at Emilio's
Should you find yourself caught in Lincoln Park with a tremendous thirst (or just the urge to get tipsy mid-day), this popular tapas spot has you covered. Whether you're in the mood for red, white or champagne versions of the Spanish staple, each sangria here is well-balanced, not too sweet, packed with fruity goodness and at a price that's right; Grab a glass for $5.50 or share a pitcher ($17.95). Watch out, as the pitchers here are pretty tiny. Look out for occasional specialty sangrias on offer, peach and mango tend to crop up every now and again.
Wanna make it yourself?
I'm still honing my recipe, but this is what I've figured out so far: Add slices of lemon, lime and orange to a bottle of shiraz or malbec (milk carafes work great for pitchers), then toss in some chunks of mango and strawberry. Add to this mixture about half a bottle of ginger beer, some simple syrup and a healthy splash of Cointreau. Let the whole thing marinate in the fridge overnight, and add ice cubes when you're ready to serve (adding ice too early waters it down).