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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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Hall said Jaleo changed the recipe for sangria at its Crystal City location, which serves up to 2,000 customers a week, but not at its District or Bethesda locations. He said some customers have noticed the difference in taste.

"It disturbs us," Hall said. "We can't offer real sangria."

It's not just sangria. Other popular drinks are also off-limits, including kir royals, which are made with sparkling wine, and boilermakers, which include beer and a shot of liquor. Also prohibited are a host of newly fashionable beer cocktails, but Ebbin's bill allows only sangria.

"It was something that caught us off guard. It is not something that has been on the radar for us," said Barrett Hardiman, director of government relations for the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association, which represents about 1,100 restaurants in the state. "A lot of people are surprised. . . . It seems archaic to us."

Many of Virginia's ABC laws haven't changed since 1934, when the nation's attitude toward alcohol was different.

"They wanted to encourage people to drink less-intoxicating beverages," Coleburn said.

The state prohibits combining wine or beer and spirits and pre-mixing or storing drinks outside their original containers, except for those in approved frozen-drink dispensers.

Officials say the goal is to show customers that they are getting what they asked for and to show regulators that the alcohol has been purchased from the state, as is required in Virginia.

Violating the sangria code is a misdemeanor, punishable by a $2,500 fine or 12 months in jail.

La Tasca was charged with four violations Dec. 5, 2006, and fined $2,000, according to ABC documents. The case is not resolved because the restaurant is appealing. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday at ABC offices in Richmond.

Restaurant officials did not return repeated telephone calls for comment.

Sen. J. Chapman "Chap" Petersen (D-Fairfax) helped pass a law a few years ago when he served in the House on behalf of Korean restaurants that wanted to serve the traditional drink soju, a beverage made of sweet distilled alcohol.

"Sometimes I feel in Virginia we're still working off a prohibition mentality," Petersen said. "The rigid construct of state laws is not reflective of modern times."

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