Sangria Hour at Jaleo, the restaurant concept by José Andrés with four U.S. locations, packs quite an impact, particularly in the summer months. Sometimes offered daily and sometimes just on weekends, the sangria-fueled happy hour lists the fruit-infused wine cocktail at $5 a glass and helps drive big volumes. “Depending on the location, we sell between 700 and 1,300 sangria servings a week,” says Jaleo beverage manager Miguel Lancha.
Sangria is available year-round at Jaleo, but summertime is the prime season. “Consumption definitely tends to increase in summer,” Lancha says. “It’s very inviting to have a glass or a pitcher of sangria on our patio.”
Jaleo is hardly unusual. Once the thermometer inches above 70 degrees and the tarps are pulled off the patio furniture, sangria starts flowing at many restaurants and bars around the country. Jenn Knott, head bartender at 312 Chicago, added sangria to her menu in April. Even in the stubbornly chilly Chicago spring, customers were eager for the taste of summer fruits and wine. “We do a lot of business with sangria, especially in the spring and summer when people are in the mood for something fresh and fruity,” she says.
The enthusiasm for sangria in the on-premise has spread to the off-premise, where bottled sangria brands have surged in recent years. Volume has more than doubled for the top eight brands since 2010, reaching 2.56 million nine-liter case depletions in 2016, compared to 1.25 million cases in 2010, according to Impact Databank.
Two Spanish sangria brands make up nearly half of the bottled sangria volume in the U.S. market. Reál retained its lead position in 2016 at 611,000 cases despite the onslaught of competition that has whittled away its market share. Lolailo has increased four-fold since 2010 and is snapping at the heels of Reál with volume at 600,000 cases last year. E. & J. Gallo’s Madria brand was the largest domestic sangria and the third-ranked sangria overall in 2016 with volume at 515,000 cases, a 1 percent gain. Yago Sant’ Gria, another domestic brand, struggled with a 10-percent decline to 300,000 cases.
While growth of bottled sangria slowed in 2016, the ongoing vibrancy of the category has prompted several marketers to enter the fray in recent years. Some are entirely new brands, while others are extensions of existing lines.
One recent launch came from Banfi Vintners, which released Riunite Sangria ($5.99 a 750-ml. and $10.99 a 1.5-liter) on June 1st. “The wine business overall is relatively flat, but sangria is growing at 4 percent,” says Juan Perez-Vega, vice president of sales and marketing for Banfi Vintners. “That increase sparked an opportunity.”
Riunite brand director Charles Dellavecchia notes that the brand’s wines have been used as the base of restaurant and homemade sangrias for years. “Everything is in the bottle,” he says, noting the new entrant’s “Just Add Fruit” tag-line. “The winemaking team used its expertise to bring the fruits together with the Lambrusco. They also added small amounts of Merlot and Sangiovese so it’s a well-rounded red blend.”
Roslyn Heights, New York–based importer Biagio Cru & Estate Wines expanded its sangria footprint last year with the introduction of Sol de Ibiza, an organic Spanish red Sangria. At $14.99 a 1-liter, the brand is an upscale counterpart to the company’s hugely successful Lolailo (about $10 a 1.5-liter). Biagio Cru & Estate Wines also launched the on-premise–targeted Swashbuckler Sangria last year.
Bag-in-box sangria brand Beso del Sol is expanding its reach as well, adding a rosé sangria this year. Pink joins the brand’s Red and White varieties, which all retail for around $20 a 3-liter box. Beso del Sol CEO Bradd Levitan says the time is right for a rosé sangria. “A couple of very small sangria brands came out with rosé sangrias four or five years ago,” he says. “They didn’t really have good distribution, and it was before the rosé explosion. It was on the docket that we come out with a rosé. We got the product right and felt like springtime was the best time to launch.”
With all these sangria brands hitting the shelves, some marketers are predicting a shakeout in the coming years. “Every major player seems to be getting into the category now,” Levitan says. “We’re seeing not just new brands like ourselves trying to break through to the market, but all the major strategic suppliers jumping into the category as well. It is going to weed out a lot of the smaller brands that have been unable to achieve a reasonable distribution footprint.”
Tom Steffanci, president of Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, says that consumer trial is key in an increasingly crowded category. For the company’s Eppa brand ($13.99 a 750-ml.), the strategy is to “get noticed, get tasted,” he says. The company has rolled out new marketing and advertising that touts Eppa’s premium, high-quality ingredients like organic wine and real fruit juice. The company also featured frozen Eppa cocktails made in-store as part of a Cinco de Mayo program earlier this year.
Steffanci acknowledges the growing competition, but says it’s the lower end of the pricing spectrum that’s really feeling the squeeze. “Despite the influx of new products, bottled sangria remains very underdeveloped compared to wine,” he notes. “The field within value pricing is crowded, and unfortunately there remains a wide range of quality levels with too many options at the lower end of the quality range.” Deutsch Family’s Yellow Tail Sangria ($6.99 a 750-ml.) competes in that crowded price band.
Brands above $10 sell well at BevMo, according to wine buyer Bill Hayes. Eppa is “certainly a leader for us,” he says, noting that the brand typically sells for $9.99 or $10.99 in BevMo stores. Lolea sangria (about $13.99 a 750-ml.) is also a top performer. “They are really delightful wines, and the customers are loving them,” Hayes says. “They have dynamic packaging that has captured the eye of millennials.”
BevMo has also launched its own red sangria, Twirl, priced at $10.95 a 750-ml. Hayes says Twirl is often featured in the chain’s 5-cent sale, which offers a second bottle for just 5 cents. He’s open to new sangrias as well. “We are always looking for new wines,” Hayes says. “We want to be the trendsetters.”
While the lion’s share of bottled sangria is targeted at the off-premise, some marketers see huge opportunities for their brands in restaurants and bars. Levitan says Beso del Sol’s current business is split equally between the on- and off-premise. In fact, the brand was launched as a response to a request for a new sangria at Disney properties and ended up being successful. Since then, Beso del Sol has added multiple national accounts to its roster.
Levitan notes that a consistent, tasty product makes sense in the on-premise. He explains that making sangria in-house is “an operational nightmare,” often resulting in serving inconsistent and inferior product to customers.
Banfi Vintners will be targeting the on-premise with Riunite Sangria, Perez-Vega says. “A lot of on-premise customers make their own sangria, so there will be some challenges, but we think this product can stand up to anything they can make,” he notes.
In the on-premise, those who are making their own sangrias take a variety of approaches. Some prefer the consistency of a standard recipe while others see sangria as an opportunity to work through excess stocks of wine.
Knott of 312 Chicago is one of the latter. “We do a lot of private dining and banquets, and we’ll end up with some random wines,” she says. “For making a sangria, I don’t need to use a super fancy wine. I use lots of Pinot Grigios, Vermentinos and occasionally a Chardonnay.” The Moon Catchin’ Sangria ($13 a glass) at 312 Chicago is made with white wine, DeKuyper Triple Sec and Giffard Crème de Pêche de Vigne, along with strawberries, raspberries and pineapple.
Frantz Metellus, owner of Rustik Tavern in New York, reinvents his sangria recipe every summer, and sometimes more often. “For us the reinvention comes from trying to figure out what our customers might like this week, this day, this hour,” he says. “Is it more acidic, is it lighter, is it a little bit heavier body? There are so many different wines out there. We mix it up.”
Others take a more structured approach. Joshua Holliday, mixologist for the newly opened Chica restaurant at the Venetian Las Vegas, says he works hard to match the wine base with the spirit, fruit and other ingredients used. When the restaurant launched in May, Holliday featured two sangrias, both at $16 an oversized Bordeaux glass. The Sangria Manzana contains Do Ferreiro Albariño, house-made apple-infused with Hennessy V.S., pineapple juice, lime juice, and fresh apples and strawberries. The Sangria Zarzamora includes Flor de Cardon Malbec, Bacardi Gran Reserva Ocho rum, Napa Valley blackberry purée, lemon juice, orange slices, and a blackberry and raspberry garnish.
Abraham Salum, chef at Salum restaurant in Dallas, also uses specific recipes, but he experiments with different flavors by offering a range of six house-made sangrias. “We wanted to showcase the versatility of the drink,” he says. “Sangria isn’t the sorry fruit with wine that a lot of places serve. It can be different, fun and creative.”
Among the sangrias at Salum are Catalana Sangria, made with Zecchi Prosecco, Don Pedro brandy, kiwi, strawberry and mango, and Sevillana Sangria, containing Kerloo Rosé, The Botanist gin, grapes and peaches. All sangrias at Salum sell for $12 a glass.
Several on-premise professionals also say they are hoping to expand sangria’s appeal beyond the traditional spring and summer consumption season. At Chica, Holliday changes the sangrias seasonally, taking advantage of seasonal flavors and fruits. “It’s fun,” he says. “Sangria can be reinvented over and over again.”