The Perfect (Easy!) Summer Cocktail: Tinto de Verano

I love red wine.

Give me a nice, dry Malbec and I am a very happy mom indeed.

But while it’s simple enough to keep consumption limited during the school year – a glass at dinner or in front of the TV and then it’s time to retreat to bed with a book – it’s easier to over-do it during the summer.

Our schedules are looser, there’s a lot more socializing and hanging out. We stay up later, and I want to sip, sip, sip something while lounging in the back yard. Lately, I’ve found myself wishing that wine had less alcohol so that I could drink more of it at a time! And, er, a lower-calorie version might also help my shorts fit a bit less snugly.

So I got to wondering if I could make a drink with a dry red wine flavor, less alcohol and fewer calories…and if said drink would be, well, drinkable.

It turns out the answer is yes – and the answer is, gasp, a red wine spritzer!

Sounds kind of weird, right? Of course I’d heard of wine spritzers, though the term has always made me think of something akin to an oh-so-80s Bartles & James wine cooler. And I just assumed that you’d only want to make a spritzer out of a sweet white wine, not a dry red.

But I did a little internet digging and found out that a red wine spritzer called a “Tinto de Verano” is actually a very popular summertime drink in Spain (and the humble spritzer doesn’t have the dated and “uncool” image in Spain that it has in the United States.)

I experimented with a few different recipes, and here’s my favorite:

1. Fill a glass to the top with ice cubes.

2. Now pour 2-3 ounces of red wine into the glass. In a standard wine glass, this will take up about a third of the glass. Don’t bother with the really good stuff; this is an occasion for Pinot Evil or one of the slightly-more-premium boxed wines you can find everywhere these days (and it’ll make that $16-on-sale box-o-wine last FOREVER).

3. Fill almost to the top with seltzer, club soda or another bubbly drink. The Spanish version calls for lemon-lime soda, but I wanted to avoid the sugar blast, so I opted for the Faygo cherry-flavored version (no calories, just “natural fruit flavor”, which I am hoping is actually “natural.”) I think a splash of Sprite (or maybe a little grenadine) could give it a nice flavor boost without a lot of extra sugar.

4. Add whatever fruit or berries you have on hand. I found this step to be essential for flavor and a touch of sweetness, but you might not need it if you’re using a flavored soda. I added sliced strawberries and crushed blueberries, but you could also use peaches, orange slices, cherries or any other juicy fruit you have on hand. Crush a little sugar into the fruit if you want the drink slightly less dry.

And, you’re all done! I was very surprised that the spritzer had a nice, dry, light red wine flavor. It’s very refreshing on a hot day and great for sipping when I want to have an adult beverage, but don’t want to accidentally wind up on the floor by 10 PM (or nursing a headache the next morning.)

I estimate that I used about 2 ounces of wine per glass, so a glass contains 1/3 the alcohol of a typical serving of wine, and only about 30-40 calories. If you don’t drink alcohol, I’m sure you could make this with just seltzer, fruit and a little something-something for taste (fruit juice, soda, etc). Seltzer doesn’t contain any sodium or calories – it’s just carbonated water.

No, this drink is not a substitute for a fine wine! There’s a time and place for everything, and I still love a good (or not so good) Carmenere or Bordeaux.

But it’s nice to be able to indulge in a yummy grown-up drink while I’m chatting, reading in a lounge chair or just folding laundry in front of Chopped…without worrying that I’m over-doing the booze or un-doing my workout.

Red wine lovers, give it a try and tell me what you think!

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