A week ago Monday, on June 13, 11 local bartenders participated in the Fifth Annual Sangria Throwdown, held in The Heights at Tommy Vaughn Ford. This fundraiser by the Women of Wine (WOW) supports the Houston Area Women’s Center and is always well attended and much enjoyed. Among the participants this year was – surprise, surprise! – Bear Dalton, fine wine buyer for Spec’s. Why would a guy who ordinarily works in Bordeaux futures be mixing up batches of sangria? And how in the world did he walk away with both the Judges’ Choice and the People’s Choice awards?
Dalton had helped to get WOW started several years ago, but he had never before participated in the Sangria Throwdown. “Sean Beck needled me into it,” says Dalton, referring to Backstreet Cafe’s bar manager and two-time Sangria Throwdown winner. Beck has reclused himself from participating for a few years, to give others a chance.
“I decided that if I was going to participate, I had to try to win and to do that, I needed a great and unique and even different sangria recipe.” Dalton says he didn’t want to make a sweet red sangria. “I wanted a drink my wife Carol would enjoy, and she is adamant in her dislike for sweet red sangria.”
Dalton’s recipe (below) riffs off the current Spanish obsession for gin and tonic, as well as a white Port cocktail. “I decided to try infusing my white Port of choice [Dow’s White Port] with two of my favorite herbs, basil and cilantro. Over the summer and fall of 2015, the drink – Green Sangria – came together.”
We wondered if, as a serious wine guy, Dalton felt odd messing with the integrity of wine to create sangria. “I started as a bartender, which lead me into wine, and am an avid cook. So combining wine, mixology, cooking and presentation made for a complete package for me.”
So, without further ado, here is Bear Dalton’s award-winning recipe for Green Sangria. He recommends serving it with tapenade and crackers or lighter/raw seafood dishes. “The little bit of sweetness allows it to handle spice pretty well, and the acidity keeps it refreshing,” notes Dalton.
1 bunch basil, chopped (reserve some sprigs for garnish)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped (reserve some sprigs for garnish)
4 large limes, juiced + 1 lime cut into wheels (for garnish)
2 bottles Dow’s White Port
12 oz. Minute Maid Lemonade (regular or lite)
12 oz. Schweppes Tonic Water (regular or diet)
green and red seedless grapes (de-stemmed and frozen)
cantaloupe (cubed, lightly salted and frozen)
METHOD: Chop approximately 2/3 cup of fresh basil and 2/3 cup fresh cilantro. Put both chopped herbs in a half-gallon pitcher. Add the juice of four large limes, two 750ml bottles of Dow’s White Port and 12 oz. Minute Maid Lemonade. Allow to macerate in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours (over 12 hours is even better), stirring occasionally.
Strain Port/lemonade mixture through a sieve and return to pitcher. Before serving, stir in 12 oz. (or to taste) of Schwepp’s Tonic Water. Serve over frozen grapes, frozen cantaloupe and a few ice cubes. Garnish with a sprig of cilantro, a basil leaf and a half wheel of lime or other citrus. Serves eight.