Glasses of white and red sangria. Photo: Mary Orlin

Sangria, Spain’s famous spiked fruit punch, is summer’s go-to libation. This easy drinking party in a pitcher has come a long way since its humble beginnings. Centuries ago, Spaniards mixed red wine with fruit and spices as a safer alternative to often contaminated water.

Fast forward to New York’s 1964 World’s Fair, when the slightly sweet fruity red punch (its name is derived from sangre, the Spanish word for blood) made its official American debut at the Spanish Pavilion. Since then, sangria has evolved beyond the traditional red wine, fruit, brandy, sugar and orange juice recipe to white, rosé and sparkling wine versions.

We checked out the East Bay sangria scene to discover the tastiest sips, along with tips for upping your sangria-making game at home.

At Berkeley’s La Marcha Tapas Bar, traditional red sangria (left) is spiked with sherry. Photo: La Marcha Tapas Bar
At Berkeley’s La Marcha Tapas Bar, traditional red sangria (left) is spiked with sherry. Photo: La Marcha Tapas Bar

La Marcha Tapas Bar

You expect great sangria at a tapas bar, but the folks at La Marcha raise that bar. Instead of doctoring up inexpensive red wine, chef and co-owner Sergio Monleón starts by using good wine he likes to drink.

“Sherry is a great start to a meal with,” said Monleón. “We look for young, fresh wine without a lot of barrel aging.”

That means light-bodied, fruit forward wine, such as Spanish Garnacha (Grenache) or Tempranillo. But that’s not all.

“We have a great sherry program, so we incorporate a couple different kinds of sherry into our sangria,” Monleón said.

He adds Oloroso sherry, a fragrant, nutty, complex and aged fortified wine, to La Marcha Sangria ($10/glass, $50/liter pitcher) for body and weight. Instead of sugar, Monleón mixes in sweet Pedro Ximénez sherry.

Fresh lemon and orange bring the fruitiness, along with seasonal chopped apples, pears or strawberries. Most importantly, instead of making and serving sangria immediately, Monleón macerates the fruit in wine and sherry for at least 24 hours, letting flavors meld.

On Sangria Sundays glasses are $5 and pitchers are $25.

La Marcha Tapas Bar, 2026 San Pablo Ave. (near University), Berkeley

A colorful variety of sangria drinks and a sangria flight are on menu at Livermore’s Pura Vida Cocina Latina & Sangria Bar. Photo: Mary Orlin
A colorful variety of sangria drinks and a sangria flight are on menu at Livermore’s Pura Vida Cocina Latina & Sangria Bar. Photo: Mary Orlin

Pura Vida Cocina Latina & Sangria Bar

You’ve got to love a restaurant that offers sangria flights and has a sangria tower. At Pura Vida in Livermore, a colorful, eye-catching stack of four sangrias entices you to try one of eight housemade libations. You’ll find creative concoctions with ginger beer, blackberries, peach or prickly pear.

“The art of sangria making has evolved,” said Pura Vida’s owner Gianni Schell, who compares his sangrias to artisan cocktails.

On Pura Vida’s sangria menu ($8-9/glass, $35/pitcher), you’ll find White Ginger sangria, made with ginger beer, or Just Peachy, featuring white wine, peach puree and basil. Of course there’s the Tradicional, a Spanish sangria homage, with red wine, sugar and marinated fruit. Can’t decide? Try a flight of three for $20.

Pura Vida Cocina Latina & Sangria Bar, 2241 First St. (near S. Livermore), Livermore

The Sangria Cesar at tapas bar Cesar in Berkeley is made with sparkliing wine, brandy and port. Photo: Cherie Azzopardi

More places to get your sangria on

Red sangria ($11) rules at Doña Tomás. The punch base is a soft, fruity red wine without a lot of tannin, such as Garnacha and includes fresh lemon and orange juice and brandy. The twist comes from a syrup made from canela (Mexican cinnamon) and piloncillo (Mexican dark brown sugar), which add warm spice and earthy sweetness. Doña Tomás, 5004 Telegraph Ave. (between 49th and 51st), Oakland

For 20 years César in Berkeley has been serving up Sangria César ($12) with sparkling Moscato d’Asti, Spanish brandy, ruby port and citrus. César,1515 Shattuck Ave. (between Vine and Cedar), Berkeley

Oakland’s Shakewell makes Rosé Sangria ($10) with rosé, brandy, Combier liqueur and Cocchi Americano amaro. Shakewell, 3407 Lakeshore Ave. (near Mandana), OaklandBar César in Oakland puts a complex spin on its House Sangria ($11), with a white and red wine mix, cassis liqueur, orange liqueur and spiced cinnamon and clove bitters. Fruit marinates in the punch overnight. Bar César, 4039 Piedmont Ave. (between 40th and 41st), Oakland

You’ll find three sangrias on Walnut Creek’s Telefèric Barcelona menu: Sangria Telefèric ($10) is the classic red wine and brandy mix with a gin twist; Sangria Barceloneta ($11) features cava, rosemary lemonade and prickly pear juice; and the white wine Spicy Sangria ($12) is spiked with Serrano pepper vodka, triple sec and elderflower. Telefèric Barcelona, 1500 Mount Diablo Blvd. (at N. Main), Walnut Creek

Photo: Mary Orlin

Sangria at home

We asked La Marcha’s Monleón, Doña Tomas’s general manager Andee Brown and Pura Vida’s Schell for tips to up your homemade sangria game.

  • Use good quality wine.
  • Macerate wine and other alcohol with fruit and spices for at least 24 hours. Save some of that fruit for toppings.
  • Instead of sugar or simple syrup, try port-style wine; aged, sweet sherry or slightly sweet Moscato.
  • Spike the punch with a little vodka, gin, triple sec, creme de cassis or peach schnapps.
  • Spice up your sangria. Cinnamon, star anise and cloves work well with red sangrias. Ginger is great in white sangria.
  • Toss in plums, cherries, blueberries or blood orange for red sangria. Try pineapple, mango, lychee, kiwi, nectarines or apricots for white. Strawberries, watermelon or raspberries go well with rosé.
  • Using softer fruit such as watermelon or strawberries? Drink these sangrias up sooner rather than later, as the fruit disintegrates after a few days. Heartier fruit — apples, pears, citrus, pineapple — last longer.
  • Add a fresh note with mint or lemon verbena.
  • Make it sparkling. Top sangria off with prosecco, cava or sparkling lemonade.