We examine the ultimate Spanish holiday drink, but is it a fun novelty punch, crime against wine or just a spruced up version of deliciously authentic ‘tinto de verano’?
Kitsch in appearance, sweet in taste and the architect of many a hangover, sangria is one of the all-time greatest holiday drinks. It has a unique charm, whether you’ve picked it up in a carton from a Spanish supermarket or have made your own, festooned with abundant bobbing orange slices. Its saccharine flavour will give you a rosy flush without having to go near a beach. The relatively simple composition of wine, a soft mixer and fruit leaves it open to interpretation too, meaning if iced red wine with lemon isn’t your thing, there’s sure to be a version to suit you.
First, choose your wine
There are two schools of thought when it comes to the base ingredient of sangria. The budget-friendly, nonchalant approach is to use cheap wine, which is then masked by the fruit and sweet soda. However, paying more attention to the choice of wine will mean you can match its flavour profile to your additions. We’re not talking mega spending here – Spain produces some wines that are flavour-rich but reasonable in price.
Tom Forest, a wine expert at Vinopolis, likes to use red wine to stay loyal to the origins of the word sangria itself. ‘Sangre’ is the Spanish word for blood after all. He recommends looking for Spanish reds from lesser-known regions such as Toro, Rueda and Somontano. Here you’ll find wine that’s similar to Rioja with a smaller price tag.
Whichever red you choose, Tom suggests going for one that’s dry – you’ll be adding enough sweetness to it with the soda and fruit. Try to find something young and fruity, rather than an aged, oaky wine. Sangria can also be made with rosé, white wine, Cava or Prosecco, but it’s important to match additions accordingly – more on which to come…
The Spanish aren’t afraid of adding soft drinks to red wine (a statement that would cause some wine purists to shudder). ‘Tinto de verano’ is a combination of red wine with orange or lemon soda, while ‘calimocho’ is red wine with cola added. Opt for these if you want an elementary version of sangria, plus they carry added kudos for authenticity.
When it comes to traditional sangria, simple lemonade is often the most effective mixer. In Spain, cloudy lemonade, such as Fanta Limon, is popular, so try to source something similar. Orange soda or ginger beer – albeit in carefully controlled quantities – would work as carbonated additions alongside, or instead of, lemonade. Or, use still fruit juice such as blood orange, grape or apple juice, mixed with a little soda water if you prefer a fizzy finish.
Then, a dash of something stronger?
Before getting to the garnishing stage, some people like to add a splash of spirit or liqueur. It’s essentially a case of personal taste, but we suggest something with a fairly low ABV as you’re looking to ramp up the flavour rather than the already hefty alcohol content. Marsala, orange liqueur, fortified wine, Sherry, red vermouth or cherry brandy would work well in small doses, but sangria recipes containing vodka, rum or, more commonly, brandy do exist. Treat with caution and warn your guests that this isn't a grog to be fervently glugged.
Fruity finishes and added flavours.
You can use almost any fruit in sangria, although slices of orange or lemon are a common choice. Spanish chef José Pizzaro likes to use cherries, peaches or strawberries, and always marinates his fruit the day before making sangria. He leaves it to steep in a sugared spice mix with cloves and cinnamon, meaning the fruit becomes semi-candied. It’s a process not dissimilar to that for making ‘zurracapote’, a sangria-like mix in which the spiced fruit and wine are steeped together for several days.
Consider the nature of your wine and also what soft mixer you're using – if you’re serving a Cava sangria with light grape juice, summer berries may work better than astringent citrus, or a crisp and dry Chardonnay could work with fresh apple. You can also add cinnamon sticks, caster sugar, gomme or fresh mint, but you’d be veering closer towards cocktail territory.
Use this recipe as a base for your ratio of ingredients:
If you’re entertaining, use a couple of bottles of wine, and try using a combination of colours. Go light on the added alcohol, so around one part spirit to five parts wine, depending on the strength of your hard spirit. When it comes to the mixer, try adding around a third of the amount of wine, so around 500ml of mixer for 140cl (or two bottles) of wine. With fruit and garnishes, add according to taste.
- White Zinfandel + peach schnapps + soda water + sliced orange
- Red Tempranillo + orange liqueur + orange soda + cinnamon + blood oranges
- Red Rioja + cherry brandy + peaches + cloudy lemonade
- Rosé Tempranillo + Sherry + apple juice + soda + fresh apple slices
- Cava + peach schnapps + grape juice + fresh white grapes
The full monty
Are you a fan of sangria, or is it best left to the beach bars of the Costa Del Sol? We’d like to hear your thoughts…