In a testament to sangria’s ongoing popularity, Brock Bartholomew, a retail wine specialist for Fine Wine & Good Spirits state stores, reports that customers ask for recommendations three or four times a week – even in winter. “I tell people to go with a big Spanish white like Rioja or a Spanish red. Having said that, you can use whatever you want, even a sparkling wine,” Bartholomew says. “The wine should be dry though, not sweet. To me, that’s the important part, since you’ll be using fruit and other things that will add some sweetness.”
When helping people choose a sangria base, Bartholomew usually points to wines in the $9 to $13 range. “You don’t want to use something really cheap because your punch won’t taste as well as it should. And you can find some nice Spanish whites at that price point, especially when you pick something from the Chairman’s Selection,” he says, explaining that these specially priced wines feature quality products at a substantial discount. Optimal white wines for sangria include Albariño and Grenache Blanc, or look for a Tempranillo if you prefer a Spanish red.
Brandy is a traditional sangria stir-in, along with a splash of Cointreau or triple sec. However, feel free to reach for other bottles, from vodka or tequila to Campari or St-Germain. Build complexity by partnering the spirits with a variety of fresh fruits and herbs. “Use whatever kind of fruit you like – blueberries, mulberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, whatever you want,” says Bartholomew. “You can even make sangria with a white and a rosé wine, and use rum with that. I think rum gives it a little bit of sweetness and kicks it up a notch. Don’t be afraid to experiment – that’s what’s so nice about sangria! Think out of the box when choosing fruits and wines.”
Suggested flavor pairings include plums with ginger liqueur, or use mango rum, fresh pineapple, and a sliced stalk of lemongrass for a tropical twist. Looking for a drink with a spicy bite? Remove the seeds and veins from one or two jalapeños, slice into rings and muddle in a pitcher before adding your choice of fruit, liqueurs and a full-bodied Malbec wine from Argentina. For an extra layer of sweetness, stir in a little honey, agave nectar, or simple syrup.
The finished mixture should be placed in a large covered jar or pitcher and refrigerated for three or for hours – or up to twelve hours, at your preference – so the flavors will meld. Before serving, lighten up the taste with a spritz of seltzer, ginger ale, or other fizzy drink. “I’d use sparkling wine if I wanted to be a bit more festive,” Bartholomew notes. “You get all those wonderful bubbles.”