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With those summer barbecue parties now safely in the rearview until next year, we can start looking forward to—and planning for—that other rite of the cooler months: the cocktail party.

Nothing impresses or refreshes quite like a well-planned and executed cocktail party. The best ones, after all, are remembered long after the last guest stumbles out the door.

Hosting a memorable soiree can take a bit of organization and planning, but don’t let that deter you. The key is to build your next party around just one tasty drink. Throwing a Sangria or margarita party will please the masses, and require little more than making sure you have enough clean glasses.

So forget the college-style system of putting an assortment of booze and mixers on your kitchen counter or dining room table. That usually ends either with you making drinks the entire night or guests having to fend for themselves.

“You want to make something fun so it’s not just another vodka soda for everyone,” says Ryan Gaudin, a partner at the much lauded Osteria Marco in Denver. “But don’t freak out, people are there to enjoy themselves and with just a little pre-planning you’ll be fine.”

It’s never a bad idea to keep a couple cold beers in your fridge, since there’s always at least one beer-only drinker at every party. But overall the brew is best left for summer, so ditch the keg and treat your guests to a real drink.

Here are some recipes from the pros that’ll keep your guests singing your praises until it’s time to fire up the grill again.

Classic Red Sangria.
“Sangria is great for parties, it’s a great drink and you can make it as much as a day in advance,” says Roger Kugler, general manager and sommelier at Suba in New York’s Lower East Side.

Pick a full flavor wine (cheap table wine is generally best) that won’t get lost in the other flavors. Add the fruit as you serve. For a fall twist, add a cinnamon stick to each glass to swizzle.

Red Wine
Spanish Brandy
Triple Sec (or spiced rum as an alternative)
Orange juice
Fresh lemon juice
Sliced fruit (orange, melon or peach are traditional)

The proportions: 50% wine; 25% orange juice; 25% everything else evenly divided.

The Margarita

“It’s all about the ingredients that you choose,” notes Grace Hu, beverage director for Rosa Mexicano restaurants in New York.

One key to making a great margarita, says Hu, is using fresh-squeezed lime juice. But you don’t need to hand squeeze every lime. Make it easy and buy 16 oz bottles ($4.99) of 100% lime juice from Santa Cruz Organic. Also, choose your tequila wisely. Tequila made from 100% blue agave is not only smoother, but is less likely to leave you feeling its remnants in the morning. That’s because agave is much easier for the body to digest than mixto tequilas – like Jose Cuervo- which are made with up to 49% added sugars.

750 ml bottle of silver tequila.
12 ½ ounces of fresh lime juice
6 ounces of agave nectar to sweeten
6 ounces of water
Fresh limes and salt for garnish

Shake it all over ice or in a blender. Margaritas need to be mixed well, so consider mixing small batches and adding them to a pitcher as you go.

The Pisa
Courtesy of Osteria Marco, this beauty will appeal to both the lads and ladies.


Charbay pomegranate vodka
Poma liqueur
Sparkling lemonade (San Pellegrino makes a great one)

Mix 16 ounces of vodka with eight ounces of liqueur, pour into an ice-filled pitcher; add two cans (24 ounces) of lemonade and stir. Delish!