When you’re eating out, sangria has to be the biggest rip-off of all time. Cheap wine watered down with fruit juice, poured into a glass crammed with soggy fruit and ice. Two sips after starting to drink, you’re done, and then you realize you really need a drink. Some places serve a tasty sangria, no doubt about it. But on the old dollars-to-buzz scale, it’s usually a losing bet. I guess it could be great on a blind date, when you want to keep your head clear—but then you simultaneously clear out your wallet.
But at home, oh! that’s another matter. I’ve never stood on tradition, and don’t limit sangria-making to summer months, big parties—or even guests. Heck, I’ve been known to hole up with a nicely stewing batch, switch off the phone, and spend all weekend engaging in a happy, hazy Netflix binge.
Many people will tell you the secret to good sangria is the wine. Others will say it’s the fruit or the amount of time it sits. A whole ‘nother school does silly things like dumping confectioner’s sugar or goofy flavors in perfectly nice table wine. Still other good-hearted souls get all caught up arranging elaborately garnished presentations in fancy glasses.
No, kiddies. The real secret to good sangria is the booze! This is not merely a personal opinion (in spite of my high regard for my own). No, I’ve done tests with large groups of party guests where one batch of sangria was pretty much the old-fashioned wine and fruit deal, and the other was absolutely chock-full of stuff you could set on fire with a good hard stare. Guess which one survived past clean-up time?
My personal recipe is an amalgamation of several I’ve found on various recipe Web sites. A quick Google search turns up dozens. I skipped most of the details, and focused on the proportions. Then I goosed the critical ones a little. When creating any indulgence, of course, a little discretion is a good thing to use.
Good quality wine? Sure, get something a bit better than the boxed stuff, but not so nice you’d think twice about using some of it for a decent sauce. Savory is nice. Worried about getting Spanish wine? Forget about it. Almost any decent table wine that isn’t harsh is fine. Fruit? Absolutely. Oranges and apples will do. Get fancy and mix in a bit of peeled grapefruit or some strawberries, if you like. Fruit is definitely the place to add a little flavor and visual interest. I’ve even slipped in some nice ripe mango on occasion. But just apples and oranges will do fine. Remember, we’re focused on getting drunk here—not making pretty pictures.
Many sangria recipes call for a bit of brandy. So far, so good. But the real kicker? Gin. It was when I was in the Spanish Pyrennes—in a little village way out in the country, and dog-tired from cycling all day—that I tasted the nectar of the gods at dinner. Cool, savory, fruity, sweet, a little touch of alcohol, and something else I couldn’t put my finger on. The proprietor of the inn had added a bit of gin. Maybe everyone else in the world already knew about this, but my sangria-making had been changed forever.
Wine, fruit, fruit juice, brandy and gin. That’s the ticket.
Oh, and serving it? Please don’t pack it over ice like soda pop. If you’ve made something tasty, let people taste it without having to race against melting ice. And hold back on putting fruit bits in the drinking glass. This is about drinking, not avoiding apple wedges. If you serve it in small portions, very cold, without those distracting ice or fruit bits, people will like it more. At least, that’s what I’ve observed.
And those proportions?
- 1 bottle of wine
- 1 cup each of apple and orange juice
- 1 apple, cored and sliced
- 1 orange, in sections (peel it if the skin is too bitter)
- 2 cups of brandy (OK, one if you’re feeling timid)
- 1 cup of gin
It’s great to drink right then, but if it sits overnight, it’s better. My one fancy thing is to put the section of a nice oily vanilla bean in the mix, if it will sit for a while. That softens the stuff. And a pinch or two of sugar can help at the last moment, if the whole thing tastes too sharp. Otherwise, save the sweets for dessert—maybe flan?