Back in the not-so-good old days of Medieval Europe, when super-nasty bacteria were typically doing the backstroke in the local water source, fermented beverages were often the safest – if not tastiest – form of liquid refreshment.
Fortunately, sangria emerged as the flavorful go-to thirst quencher in sunny Spain, and the beverage quickly migrated to nearby countries. This red wine-based, citrus-laced, and brandy-fortified drink, so named for its vibrant color – sangre is the Spanish word for “blood” – eventually evolved to embrace a diverse array of spirits, fruits, and spices.
While regional variations of sangria gradually found their way around the globe, the delectable wine punch didn’t make the jump to mainstream American culture until the 1964 New York World’s Fair, an event that also fostered a nationwide yen for egg rolls and got the whole country humming “It’s a Small World.” Ever since then, sangria has been the wine cocktail of choice for backyard gatherings. Endlessly customizable and simple to make by the pitcher or punchbowl, sangria delivers easy-going hospitality.
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.”
Courtesy of blue grillhouse / Paxos Restaurants
- 1 slice each of orange, lemon, and lime
- 1 maraschino cherry or fresh sweet cherry, pitted
- 1 oz. pear vodka
- 3 oz. sauvignon blanc
- 1 1/2 oz. club soda
- 1 1/2 oz. Sprite
Muddle the fruits together in the bottom of a cocktail glass and add a small a handful of ice cubes. Pour in vodka and wine, stir, and top with club soda and Sprite. Serve immediately.
Courtesy of the savORY GRILLe
- 1 (750ml) bottle Gewürztraminer (preferably German)
- 2 T wildflower honey (your choice)
- 2–3 white peaches, unpeeled and sliced in wedges*
- 1 cup peeled and seeded chopped cucumber
- Ice cubes
- Wheels of unpeeled cucumber for garnish (optional)
- Wheels of lime (optional)
*You can substitute your favorite variety of peach or use nectarines.
Pour wine into a large pitcher, add honey, and stir until fully incorporated. Add fruit, cucumber and ice; stir gently. Pour wine into serving glasses until half filled. Spoon fruit, cucumber, and ice cubes into the drink and garnish as desired with cucumber and lime slices.
NOTE: Rather than allowing fruit to macerate over an extended period of time, Shawn Doyle, chef/owner of The Savory Grille in Macungie, prefers to make sangria à la minute, in small batches. “You can clearly taste each of the flavors – they’re not muddled together, he reports.
Need more sangria in your life?
Here’s one more recipe to satisfy your tastebuds.