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Chill out with do-it-yourself summer wine coolers

For a great summer drink, start with a decent bottle of wine

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The wine cooler has a bit of an identity problem. Is it a wine spritzer? A wine cocktail? Sangria? And what about that wild child moment in the ’80s when it was the hottest thing on the party scene?

Luckily, this cocktail conundrum is easily solved. As Gertrude Stein might put it, wine cooler is wine spritzer is wine cocktail is sangria. And the versions being whipped up today have nothing in common with the cheap, mass-produced products of 30 years ago (which thankfully went the way of shoulder pads).

“Mixology has been raised to this new cheflike heights and wine, in a way, is the bartender’s hottest ingredient right now,” says Mike Dawson, senior editor at Wine Enthusiast.

Summer is the perfect time for wine coolers, since it’s the one time of year even the most dedicated vinophile toys with dropping a fistful of ice in a glass.

What should you use when making wine coolers? Well, don’t reach for the bottom shelf wine that just doesn’t taste good, advises Cappy Sorentino, bar director of Spoonbar restaurant at the h2hotel in the wine country town of Healdsburg, Calif. On the other hand, don’t go crazy and uncork an expensive bottle of wine, either. “It doesn’t have to be the best stuff because you’re basically using it as a base,” he says.

Look for a wine that has a fair amount of acidity to it — “yes” to sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio, “no” to chardonnay that’s spent a lot of time in oak barrels. For red wines, Spanish wines are, not surprisingly, a good choice since sangria is a Spanish invention. Try Tempranillo.

Sorentino has an interesting take on sangria, which is usually wine fortified with something a little stronger and augmented with sugar and spices. At Spoonbar, he’s using a rosé wine with pisco (Peruvian brandy), plus a little sugar, some water, fresh pineapple juice, cinnamon and a touch of clove.

Here are a few ideas to make your wine cooler-spritzer-sangria-cocktail pitcher perfect.

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