Make sangria, watch the smiles

The novelist Kingsley Amis wasn’t far off when he described sangria as “cheap, easy to make up and pretty harmless — so that you can drink a lot of it without falling down.”

A mixture of wine, fruit, sugar and traditionally a bit of brandy, sangria reportedly originated on the Iberian Peninsula where it was named after the word for blood-letting, due to its distinctive deep red color. It remains hugely popular in Spain and Portugal, and is even protected trade name under an European Union statute that exclusively allows Spanish or Portuguese producers of commercial sangria to bottle and sell it under that moniker. Though why anybody would bother to buy, much less serve, premade sangria is beyond me.

Drinking wine mixed with other flavors has been popular for centuries. The Romans created “hippocras,” a wine cocktail made by mixing wine with sugar and different spices, including cinnamon, mace and cloves. After allowing it to steep for a least a day, it was passed through a conical cloth filter known as a Hippocratic sleeve and often served warm.

By contrast, sangria is really meant for warm weather and it is typically much easier to make. To begin, grab a clean bucket or large pitcher and pour in a bottle of flavorful but inexpensive red wine. As this is a Spanish creation, using a rioja or other Spanish red is a welcome, though not essential, nod to tradition.

There are innumerable variations. When made with white wine it is called Sangria Blanca or, in Argentina and Paraguay, Clerico. Some prefer to add a soft drink like 7-Up or Sprite or an off-dry sparkling wine rather than orange juice and sugar. A quick version uses a 1:1 mixture of red wine and Italian soda with frozen fruit, while the “Lazy Girl” sangria is made in a glass by muddling some fresh raspberries and adding a ¼ cup of orange liqueur, 4 ounces of red wine, some club soda and a big cube of ice. Garnish with an orange slice — or not.

So, have a go at it. Consider the Ramon Cardova Rioja 2011 ($16; mevushal), a simple but enjoyable, light to medium bodied, lightly wooded and lightly spiced wine with aromas and flavors of currant, cedar and a touch of tar and damp soil. A pleasant inexpensive wine that is easy to pair with food, but makes for a good foundation for any of the plentiful sangria recipes available. Here is one of my favorites:

Sangria
Ingredients
1 bottle (750 ml) red wine, preferably Spanish, like a Rioja.
¾ cup Triple-Sec (an orange flavored liqueur), like Cointreau
1 shot of decent brandy (I tend to use a cognac, though sometimes the apple-based Calvados)
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1½ ounce simple syrup (a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water, heated on the stove until the sugar has fully dissolved)
1 teaspoon Angostura bitters
Fresh, seasonal fruit of your choice
San Pellegrino soda (chilled)
Hard ice

Directions

Mix all the ingredients except the soda, fruit and ice together in a large pitcher, refrigerate for an hour or two. When ready to serve, add the ice, soda (use your discretion — could be a few splashes per serving, could be the whole bottle added to the pitcher), and pieces of fruit. Serve over cracked ice in a goblet and watch the smiles. L’chaim! n

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