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Virginia's Sangria Ban At Issue in 2 Hearings

Jaleo in Crystal City changed its sangria recipe after hearing that an Old Town restaurant was cited for serving the drink, which Virginia prohibits.
Jaleo in Crystal City changed its sangria recipe after hearing that an Old Town restaurant was cited for serving the drink, which Virginia prohibits. (By Nikki Kahn/Post)
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By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 24, 2008

RICHMOND, Jan. 23 -- A Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control agent conducting a routine inspection in 2006 cited La Tasca Spanish Tapas Bar and Restaurant in Old Town Alexandria for violating an obscure 75-year-old state law:

It's illegal to serve sangria in Virginia.

The fruity cocktail of wine and brandy that is a must-have at Spanish restaurants violates a law that forbids mixing wine or beer with spirits. If convicted, a bartender could go to jail for a year.

"It's absolutely preposterous," said Robert Hall, general manager of Jaleo restaurant in Crystal City, which altered its sangria recipe last year after hearing the news about La Tasca. "What harm is this causing?"

The General Assembly, which began a 60-day legislative session this month, is considering whether to tweak the antiquated law to allow restaurants and bars to serve sangria made of more than wine.

A House subcommittee is scheduled to debate the bill Thursday.

"It just seems to make common sense that government should worry about big issues like transportation and not get too concerned about what people drink," said Del. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who introduced the bill.

Since 1934, just after the national prohibition of alcohol was repealed, Virginia has had laws that prohibit mixing wine or beer with spirits and pre-mixing a drink with alcohol.

"We're a little nervous of expanding the law," said House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong (D-Henry), who served for 16 years on a committee that wrote alcohol laws. "We're a conservative state and a conservative legislature. Some of that's good. Some of it's bad."

The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control does not keep statistics on sangria citations, but officials estimate they have given out a handful in recent years.

Curtis Coleburn, the agency's chief operating officer, said his agents usually warn restaurants that they cannot serve sangria and other drinks that include wine or beer and spirits. But the agents generally do not cite them, because most do not know it is illegal.

Sangria is usually made with red wine, brandy and fruit. Other recipes call for additional liquors, such as vodka.

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