Jim Kurtz is cool today because of sangria.
The Ashland resident pours the wine-based punch for himself and guests floating on his pontoon boat on Emigrant Lake.
Inside his glass are fresh-picked berries and locally made red wine that have been chilling together for at least a day.
Unlike old college recipes made with rotgut wine and anything found in the fridge for a quick buzz, Kurtz's sangria is a graduation, he says. He adds triple sec, then dilutes the alcohol with ginger ale and ice.
"It's more diluted than straight wine or beer," he says. "And it instantly quenches and conjures up an exotic locale."
Adults experiencing the Rogue Valley's summer heat are finding relief in time-tested sangria. Helping them chill are local restaurant staffers who are diving into demand for a brisk beverage with new ingredients that update sangria's fruity, tart tradition.
At Sesame Asian Kitchen in Ashland, an icy pint glass of sangria ($6.50) made with pinot gris, GranGala orange liqueur and passion-fruit puree is slurped creekside by adults seeking to turn down their internal furnace.
Nearby, Enoteca by EdenVale Wine Bar and Bistro makes the Spanish-inspired drink with wine grapes grown in Medford.
At the Ashland bar, customers are benefiting from a glut of wine by leaving with a $35 case of EdenVale chardonnay or Red Rabbit red. With it, some plan to make their own sangria antidote to scorching days.
In Talent, chef Douglas Todd of Wine Country Catering (www.chefwinecountry.com)adds pricy Cointreau to his sangria that keeps catering clients guessing at his secret ingredients.
Because of the taste, Todd bases his sangria on 2009 EdenVale Viognier that costs $18 a bottle instead of a less expensive vintage (the 2010 is $10) or a cut-rate chardonnay.
To him, the viognier grape has the right balance.
"It isn't an oaky chardonnay or a dry sauvignon blanc," says Todd, who graduated from Tante Marie's Cooking School in San Francisco and studied enology at U.C. Berkeley.
He adds blueberries because they are healthy, enhance the juicy taste and look pretty bouncing around inside glassware. Strawberries and all of the other fruits — except Valencia orange slices — are from local producers.
He pairs his sangria with grilled pork tenderloin topped with guava glaze and orange-habanero sauce.
Sangria, it seems, begins its mental cooling effect the instant ice cubes clink against the glass. Then there is the taste of fresh fruit cold-soaked in a carbonated liquid, a combination that offers an instant sense of air conditioning.
Light, tannic red and crisp white wines can add an alcohol layer, or the drink can hold its own without it.
Kurtz and his wife, Tina Ellis, launched their boat-filled summer with white wine, which is brighter and more refreshing than the red wine they were drinking during the winter.
Then they discovered dry roses made by Quady North Winery from Applegate Valley syrah grapes and Brandborg Vineyard and Winery from Elkton-grown pinot noir grapes. Like sangria, rose wines have to recover from a reputation of being too sweet.
"Rose has a bad rap, but these two roses don't deserve it," says Kurtz, who is a hobby winemaker. In 2009, he made some of his own dry rose from tempranillo grapes.
For the first month of summer, life was just as rosy on the Kurtz's pontoon boat, which he calls a "floating patio."
When the couple stumbled upon EdenVale's case sale in downtown Ashland, they bought a few bottles of Red Rabbit red, then returned for more, priced at less than $3 a bottle. At that price, they say, they can't lose.
They have experimented by adding pineapple and oranges, as well as Ellis' homemade limoncello, a lemon liqueur.
Kurtz says when they serve the colorful beverage to guests, most say that they haven't tasted sangria in a long time. Soon, he says, they start sharing all but forgotten stories and recipes.
Although comedian Adam Carolla promotes sangria with vodka — called a "mangria" or "college in a bottle" — Kurtz says he and his wife stay away from hard alcohol.
"That sounds pretty hard-core," he says, "and something that might melt my plastic glass."
The couple's intention, after all, is to cool off and keep it light.
"We're just trying to take the edge off the day," says Kurtz, "not put us asleep."
Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or firstname.lastname@example.org