Mix, Pour, Sample – Sangria

– by Jenny Benzie – Advanced Sommelier + Certified Wine Educator, Proprietress of Epernay Wine & Spirits

When it comes to drinking wines, there are few times when it is deemed appropriate to mix it with something else. Forget about that splash of orange juice you add to Champagne for Sunday Brunch. Why would you ever mix Coca-Cola with an expensive Bordeaux? And no, Rosé wine is NOT made by adding grenadine to Pinot Grigio.

Enter Sangria.

Here is a wine beverage where you can safely mix your wine with other items and make yourself a delicious and refreshing cocktail.

This drink originated as a staple beverage in Spain and Portugal. The name comes from the Spanish word for “bloodletting,” which is in reference to its dark red color when made with red wine. The base components consist of wine, chopped fruit, a sweetener, and a small amount of added brandy. Makes sense: the Spaniards produce such a large quantity of Spanish Brandy that this drink would ensure a demand for their product. No matter what your recipe, however, wine is the dominant ingredient and what all other ingredients revolve around.

Your ingredients in Sangria can vary greatly. The type of fruits you choose to include, the different kinds of spirits that may be added in addition to or in place of Brandy, what type of sweeteners are used and whether or not there is some sort of carbonation in the mix are all part of the plan.

There is a science behind your Sangria recipe.

Recipes vary as to which fruits you choose to use and methods of ‘preparing’ said fruit. Certain fruits will enhance the flavor of the drink with their own juices, while others offer subtle enhancements but are a tasty treat when they soak up all the alcohol.

Oranges, lemons, and limes (if used) are typically sliced to create rounds versus being quartered like you would for the garnish of a cocktail. Make sure to wash your fruit before using it. Be careful, however, that you do not scrub away the essential oils trapped in the flesh and peel of the fruit that helps to define their flavors. If you are concerned about the rind of these fruits adding too much bitterness to your concoction, then you can hand squeeze the juice into the mix, making sure to capture some of the skins’ oils, and not add the whole fruit. While the aforementioned are considered citrus fruits, oranges (or grapefruits) will add more sweetness to your blend where lemons and especially limes will add more acidity. This is important to know in order to create the right balance of flavors in your Sangria.

Different varieties of pears and apples can be used as a layer of fruit that adds to the background of your beverage. They will become the sponge of the fruit cocktail mixture as they soak up all the other liquids. Stone fruits, such as peaches or nectarines, will add fresh, distinctively fruity components that counterbalance the acidity of the citrus fruits. These types of fruits are cored or pitted, then diced into small, bite size cubes.

There are also variations as to how you “prepare” the fruit after it has been cut. You can make what is labeled as a “fruit salad ceviche.” You do this by taking the cut fruit, squeezing the juice from half of an orange over it, and letting it macerate or soak for about thirty minutes. This allows the sugars and citric acid (tart and fruity) in the orange to react with the malic acid (sour and tingly) found in the other fruits. Another variation is to the soak the stone fruits overnight in brandy or some other liqueur of choice, such as the orange flavored Cointreau or elderflower inspired St. Germain. A simple method is just to add the fruit at the same time you mix all the other ingredients together.

If you choose to add berries to your blend, there are a handful of ways to vary this component of the Sangria. While it is not as important to have these soak before hand, as you might do so with the other fruits, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice on any type of berries will make their flavors bright and vibrant.

If you are using a lighter style red wine, such as Sangiovese or Tempranillo, as your base, you can pair red berries like strawberries and raspberries with the wine. A heartier style red wine like Malbec or Syrah pairs well with darker berries such as blueberries or blackberries. Note that using cranberries to make Sangria is not recommended as they are tart and lack the fruitiness/sweetness that other fruits have to offer. If you do want to experiment with them, you will need to add a sufficient amount of sweetener, which could be a simple syrup, honey, or agave nectar, in order to balance the tart component.

If you prefer to use white wine instead of red, then your drink would be called “Sangria Blanca.” Some recipes will call for a white wine to be used along with a heartier red wine in order to soften the drink. You should always use a wine that is palatable enough that you would drink it on its own. There also must be enough structure in the wine for it to hold its part in this Sangria symphony of flavors.

Whatever method of preparation and ingredients you prefer, it is recommended that you refrigerate your final creation for at least three hours before serving. This gives the Sangria time to properly integrate all of its parts together. And to top it all off, frozen red and green grapes are a perfect garnish when serving. This alleviates the need to add ice that would dilute your potent libation.

One of the many benefits of making (and drinking) Sangria is that you get to experiment with whatever fruits are local and in season. This enables you to have a fresh batch of sangria available all year long, not just in the summer months. To see some of our favorite tested and proven Sangria recipes and more about their ingredients, be sure to check out our blog at www.epernaywines.com.