Sangria has a bad reputation (bargain-basement wine, cheap spirits, soggy fruit), but America's best mixologists are making versions of the drink to be proud of.

For most people, the word "sangria" brings to mind a blend of cheap wine, brandy and overripe fruit, like one of Carmen Miranda's hats doused in liquor. But lately, top American mixologists—the cocktail wizards behind the country's best bars—are having fun experimenting with the classic Spanish formula, blending good wines with top-shelf spirits, exotic fruits and aromatics to create a new type of sangria. At Suba and Boqueria in New York City, Roger Kugler has even moved beyond using wine as a base; his unconventional sangrias include ones made with beer and another with fino sherry. And at the new, Latin-themed San Francisco bar Cantina, Duggan McDonnell serves about a dozen varieties of sangria-like pitcher drinks, including his "farmers' market sangria," reimagined daily with fresh, seasonal ingredients.