Nanny state, Virginia 1934 edition

An Alexandria tapas bar was cited for serving sangria—which violates a 1934 Virginia law against mixing wine with spirits, with penalties of up to a year in jail. Virginia Spanish restaurants, so warned, now only serve a bowdlerized version of the drink, to the dismay of customers who can get the real thing a few miles away in DC or Maryland. The legislature is contemplating a change, though a pending bill would fail to exempt the similarly illegal kir royals or boilermakers. (Anita Kumar, “Virginia’s Sangria Ban At Issue in 2 Hearings”, Washington Post, Jan. 24). (According to Instruction 33 on this bulletin, Virginia also appears to ban the pitcher of margaritas the local Mexican restaurant serves.) Left unspoken: when is someone going to bring a consumer class action against the Spanish restaurants serving faux sangrias without warning customers?

(ObJingoism: At least Virginia still has better Thai, Indian, and Vietnamese food than DC or Maryland.)

For more on the more modern food police, see Overlawyered’s Eat, Drink, and Be Merry section or my article, A Taxonomy of Obesity Litigation.


  • Vermouth is also a wine– does that mean that all martinis must be extra-dry, and no Manhattans served in Virginia?

  • Hmmm… So are Port and Sherry wines also illegal in Virginia? These wines are fortified with the addition of brandy or other spirits.

  • What on earth is the rationale for the ban on mixing wine and spirits?

  • Kir Royal is champagne and crème de cassis, a non-alcoholic syrup made from black currants. (A Kir is a dry white wine with the cassis.)

    But since the whole issue is nutz, I guess a tiny mistake like that doesn’t matter.

  • What is this “rationale” of which you speak? I’ve never heard of one being needed before…

  • Crème de cassis is an alcoholic liqueur, and thus a spirit.

  • Come now, Deoxy. Legislators don’t write laws just for the heck of it – they have some rationale in mind, however misguided it may be.

  • The Virginia code section is in Licensee Bulletin 56.1, paragraph 17:

    17. Serving: Do not mix beer with wine or spirits. No more than two (2) spirits drinks may be served to a patron at a time.

    See the PDF at

    A bill was introduced in January to make sangria legal. See:

    The bill retains the existing definition in Virginia law of “wine”, which includes port and sherry but not brandy:

    “Wine” means any alcoholic beverage obtained by the fermentation of the natural sugar content of fruits or other agricultural products containing (i) sugar, including honey and milk, either with or without additional sugar; (ii) one-half of one percent or more of alcohol by volume; and (iii) no product of distillation. The term includes any wine to which wine spirits have been added, as provided in the Internal Revenue Code, to make products commonly known as “fortified wine” which do not exceed an alcohol content of 21 percent by volume.

    Vermouth is complicated because it is both a wine and a spirit, and in any case, it simply best avoided in the interest of good taste.

    A more pressing alcohol regulation question in Virginia is whether it is permissible for a restaurant to allow patrons to bring their own wine, to be opened by the restaurant subject to a corking fee. Virginia regulations seem to be silent on the matter, but I have yet to find a restaurant either willing to allow BYOB wine or able to clearly state that it is illegal. Does anyone here know the answer?

  • If I remember correctly, Virginia’s procedures prevent bringing class actions on behalf of plaintiffs who have not opted in to the class. Hence it is difficult to bring class actions in Virginia.

  • Virginia Code prohibits BYOB. Also it requires restaurants to purchase wine from a wholesaler. Wholesalers run monopolies for the brands they carry, which may explain why wine in Virginia restaurants is so damned expensive.

    § 4.1-315. Possession without license to sell alcoholic beverages upon premises of restaurant; exceptions; penalty.

    A. No alcoholic beverages shall be kept or allowed to be kept upon any premises or upon the person of any proprietor or person employed upon the premises of a restaurant or other place where food or refreshments of any kind are furnished for compensation, except such alcoholic beverages as such person owning or operating such place of business is licensed to purchase and to sell at such place of business.

    § 4.1-326. Sale of; purchase for resale; wine or beer from a person without a license; penalty.

    No licensee, other than a common carrier operating in interstate or foreign commerce, licensed to sell wine or beer at retail shall purchase for resale or sell any wine or beer purchased from anyone other than a wholesale wine, farm winery, brewery, bottler’s or wholesale beer licensee.

    These citations were provided by a helpful Virginia ABC law enforcement officer in response to my email query.

  • “Come now, Deoxy. Legislators don’t write laws just for the heck of it – they have some rationale in mind, however misguided it may be.”

    Um, it makes the guys giving me money happy? That seems to be the reason for passing many laws, but I’d hardly call that a “rationale”!