Washington Sangria

My very favorite Mexican restaurant in Southern California not only makes the best Margaritas I've ever had, they make fabulous Sangria. Sangria is the perfect drink to have with friends on long hot summer days, sitting out on your deck, watching the world go by. Sangria is cold and tangy and refreshing, and the wine adds a depth of flavor to the citrus that enhances it. Served in a chilled clear pitcher, Sangria is a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds, and you can drink a fair amount without necessarily having to drink much alcohol, or indeed, any; you can make Sangria without using wine. If you must.

Sangria arrived in Southern California with the Spanish; they might have gotten the idea from the Portugese—both countries claim Sangria for their own. Sangrìa is Spanish, Sangria is Portugese; both mean bloody, likely a reference to the fact that most Sangria has a red wine base. Sangria is not, however something people order in bars or restaurants in Spain; Sangria is something people make at home. Sangria in spain serves roughly the same purpose as "jungle juice" in America; it's something served in a large bowl at parties. You don't really inquire too deeply about the ingredients.When you make Sangria, it's best to make it a few hours before you plan to serve it, and adjust it to taste. The recipe can vary quite a lot, and very much depends on individual preferences and what you have on hand. The most traditional ingredients are:

  • A bottle of robust red wine; in Europe this is typically a Spanish (or Portugese) Tempranillo or an inexpensive Spanish Rioja.
  • Sliced or chunked fresh fruit; usually oranges, lemons, limes, sometimes pineapple. I like to use small kumquat slices, some people add melon chunks and apples pieces, and I've even seen peaches and mangos used.
  • Sometimes, depending on the wine, the fruit and the drinkers, sugar, honey, or, most often, orange juice
  • A small amount of brandy, triple sec, or Grand Marnier
  • Ice
  • Sparkling water

The basic method is to cut up the fruit, remove the seeds, put it in a large pitcher, add the wine, and any spirit, and let it sit for a few hours. Taste the Sangria and determine if it needs sweetening; consider using orange juice. Add the sparkling water; I'd suggest starting with at least a ratio of 1/3 sparkling water to the amount of wine you've used. If you want to be drinking a fair amount of fluid without becoming inebriated, use the same amount of sparkling water as the amount of wine. Many people omit the spirits completely; I like the hint of orange that even a shot of Grand Marnier adds. Just before serving add some ice to the pitcher, and more to the glasses. You'll want a large spoon at hand to stir the Sangria, and manage the fruit.

The variations possible in making Sangria are endless. The base wine you start with is probably the most important ingredient. You'll probably see people telling you to use the cheapest red wine possible; don't. Don't spend a fortune, but don't buy something you wouldn't drink on its own, either. I'd suggest something that's a red table wine, or even a hearty red blend. In my mistaken youth as a poverty stricken grad student, I used Riunite Lambrusco. That was a long time ago when there weren't a lot of wines readily available in small college towns. Today, howver, it's very different. Washington wine is available even in the Eastern half of the country, and there are some truly amazing Washington red wines. I'd go with a Washington Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot, or even a Burgundy blend. Some people use a white wine, like Sauvignon Blanc and make Sangria Blanca. You might try making Sangria Blanca using a Washington Riesling or Gewürtztramminer; later this summer, I'm going to try a Sangria Blanca with a Washington sparkling wine, and lemons.

You can experiment with the other ingredients as well as the wine. Adjust the fruit to the wine you're using as a base; you want a balance of tangy and sweet. Think about the appearance as well as the flavor. Honey adds a mellow, softer sweetness than sugar. I prefer to use orange or tangerine juice if the Sangria needs to be a little sweeter. It's important to let the fruit marinate in the wine before you add anything to sweeten it; with some wines, the fruit is enough. You might consider using orange or lemon flavored sparkling water, or even sparkling lemonade instead of plain sparkling water. Don't add so much water that you lose the lovely red color of the wine. This is Sangria, not a wine cooler. If you want to make non-alcoholic Sangria, start with a base of cranberry juice or a cranberry juice blend.

There are lots of Sangria recipes. I mostly make Sangria based on whim, and taste. My friend Dawno makes "Faux Sangria" using Merlot and ingredients you can find almost anywhere—including the average hotel. It's not bad!

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