There’s a real knack to whipping up a great summer cocktail. You need fresh, seasonal flavors, with bright acidity and a cooling effect for warm, dry days. It takes a degree of know-how and caution to make one: Add too much fruit, and you’ve bogged down the drink with unnecessary sweetness; don’t add enough, and the beverage is dull and bitter, more suited for a dreary winter night than a summer afternoon.
Summer drinks tend to be lower in alcohol, too, since they’re usually more quickly consumed. Too many high-octane drinks on a Saturday afternoon and things can get ugly.
A perfect summer quencher should be bright, refreshing, surprising, and maybe even a little effervescent. Beyond that, just about anything goes. They can be minty, floral, herbal, citrusy, melon-y, tangy, sweet, or bitter.
Enter sangria, in many ways a harmonious combination of these. The Spanish know a thing or two about creating refreshing cocktails to beat the stifling summer heat.
And in metro Detroit, Spanish sangria means one thing: La Feria, a staple for Midtown wine drinkers since 2013, when siblings Elias and Naomi Khalil paired up with Pilar Barón-Hidalgo, a native of Spain. I spoke with Elias about what makes a good sangria and why the beloved Spanish beverage has remained one of their top sellers year-round.
“A good sangria,” he tells me, “should strike a balance between fruity but not too sweet and not be overpoweringly dry. It should have some body and shouldn’t be watered down.”
Traditional Spanish sangria is made with medium-bodied red wine like Tempranillo, along with fresh fruit, brandy, and fruit juice. Khalil finds that a midpriced Tempranillo is a perfect complement to the acidity of the juice — preferably citrus — and the fresh fruit.
“You want to have that force and the body of the wine,” he says, “but you don’t want to be just drinking a glass of red wine on a summer day. I think that’s what makes sangria so appealing.”
While the Khalil siblings and Barón-Hidalgo serve up sangrias made in-house at La Feria that are tailored to the weather, with warming spices like cinnamon and cloves for cooler spring and summer nights, across metro Detroit, Barry Mulso and his partners, Paul Zimmerman and Michael Spears, at Lake Orion’s Vivid Grove Cellars have introduced a new, “boat drink”- style canned cocktail.
The trio began producing two varieties of sangria spritzes last year: a white wine spritz with peach, mango, and ginger, and a red wine spritz with raspberries and blackberries. Both versions incorporate fresh fruit and boast a relatively low alcohol percentage at 6 percent.
Mulso notes that the spritzes have found fans in wine, beer, and seltzer devotees.
“It’s not a seltzer,” he says. “It’s full flavored. And the flavors will stand up to ice.”
Vivid Grove’s canned drinks stem from the idea of “sangria, but make it bubbly,” capitalizing on three national trends in alcohol consumption: ready-to-drink, lower alcohol, and sparkling beverages.
Last year, the Negroni sbagliato craze ruled the internet for most of the summer as drinkers discovered that adding sparkling wine to just about anything results in a bright, cooling drink with sophistication and energy.
Sbagliato, in Italian, means “mistaken.” In the case of the Negroni sbagliato, allegedly, a harried bartender mistakenly grabbed sparkling wine instead of gin when making a traditional Negroni, and that happy mistake spurred a trend to make a wide range of drinks with prosecco, Champagne, or cava in place of a more intense base spirit.
These drinks far predate the sbagliato craze; in fact, there’s a whole category of them. A royale is any cocktail in which Champagne or sparkling wine is either added or substituted for the traditional spirit, and they’re frequently enjoyed during the warmer seasons or as a brunch accompaniment.
Many avid brunchers are familiar with the mimosa, but its cousins the kir royale (creme de cassis and sparkling wine, topped with fresh raspberries or a lemon twist) and the Bellini (prosecco and peach puree) are equally festive for summer sipping.
One thing all of these beverages share is their thirst-quenching capabilities. Vivid Grove’s Mulso sums up the ideal summer drink: “They are lighter. They’re easy to crush. They’re great boat drinks.”
No boat or brunch needed, although they’ll certainly help. Whether it’s a traditional Spanish sangria, a fizzy brunch cocktail, or a canned “crusher,” a summer drink is perfectly designed to beat the heat without weighing you down.
This story is from the June 2023 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.