Want to make arrogant wine shiver? Drop some ice cubes into your cup. Or worse yet, add some fruit. More than a few of my Italian and Spanish friends, they do it without hesitation, and they enjoy it. Wine to them is like salt – it’s always there, and it doesn’t need coding so much as some purists insist. But even wine lovers, in my experience, won’t object to a lukewarm jug of sangria once it’s been dunked in front of them, a kind of cognitive dissonance to make room for an undeniably delicious blend of ice wine, sugar, and fruit.
Messing with wine, tampering with it, and going back to when wine tasted more like vinegar than anything we would consider wine today, covering up its many flaws goes back at least to Roman times. Honey, fruit, spices, and more were routinely added to grapes to make them more palatable, and while winemaking standards have improved so much today that even cheap things don’t need inflammatory interventions, it’s still fun to do.
Many sources describe sangria as a drink more popular among tourists in Spain and Portugal than locals, and this may be true somewhat of late, but it also episodes from some leftover wine that is arrogant and ignores Europe’s very long history of wine-alterations. According to Spanish culinary expert Penelope Casas in her 1982 bookSpain food and wine, Sangria was so popular among the Iberians that cheap packaged products discredited it.
Meanwhile, the 1964 World’s Fair is credited with boosting the popularity of sangria in the United States, although in this case, too, the history has deeper roots. Before sangria was popular in the United States, there was the sangari, a drink of fortified wine such as Madeira or Port mixed with water, nutmeg, and sometimes citrus juice. With a twisted origin story flowing through 18th century London, the West Indies, colonial America, and Spain, sangari may have been the ancestor of sangria, although the opposite could easily be said given the ancient European history of cheating wine. For everyone’s benefit. At least, the names seem to be related: sangaree comes from sangre, the Spanish word for blood, like sangria.
What goes into making sangria?
There aren’t a lot of strict rules about how sangria is made. The basics are wine (usually, but not always, red), fruit (often oranges, lemons, apples), sugar, ice (or some other way to cool it), and wine (brandy, rum, etc.). . Some people add sparkling lemonade, or just a soda like soda, change up the fruit, or get creative with spices, extracts, liqueurs, herbs, and more. There is no limit to the possibilities as long as the drink is balanced, enjoyable and refreshing.
As we will see, it is not impossible to spoil it.
Salad (fruit) toss: Which fruit is best in sangria and which should be avoided?
As my experiment with this recipe approached, I had a working hypothesis, that we should think of sangria just as Stella had previously argued that we should think of fruit salad: with flexibility and seasonality. While oranges and lemons may hang in tree branches nearly year-round in southern Spain, they tend to be at their best in winter in the United States. Likewise, while apples store well for several months, American crops are at their peak in fall and winter, lagging behind in quality by spring and summer. So why religiously cling to apples and oranges in this climate just because that’s what works in the Iberian Peninsula? It’s apples and oranges, as they say.
I rushed to my local produce store and grabbed every fruit in sight: apples, pears, pineapples, mangoes, watermelons, strawberries, kiwis, bananas, peaches, grapes, cantaloupe, nectarine, raspberries, blackberries and more. I whipped up multiple batches with this abundance of fruit, then let it soak for a few hours in the fridge before sampling the results.
They ended up in the drain. It turns out that the fruit in sangria doesn’t work as well as the fruit in a fruit salad. Some were good. Apples, citruses, grapes, and peaches were all lovely if drenched in wine. But the berries and melons were slippery and wet, mangoes and pineapples were odd in red wine, and nearly every sample with unremovable seeds (example: strawberries, kiwis, raspberries, and blackberries) was excruciatingly bitter. Apparently, the bitter compounds in the seeds of that fruit are alcohol soluble, which makes them absolutely terrible options for sangria, unless you save them to add to each glass right before serving.
Getting creative with fruit in sangria is possible, but it’s not without risks. By the time the test was done, I had been back in the safe haven of tradition for this red wine-based recipe—apples, oranges, and lemons. There is a reason for its popularity, and that is because it works.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it and deciding if the fruit is too small, like a 1/4 inch dice, it’s less fun because little bits of fruit try to get into your mouth in every sip whether you like it or not. Too large, for example, more than an inch, and you have less room to infuse the fruit flavor into the wine and vice versa; In addition, it becomes difficult to eat. It landed in the 3/4 inch range for apples and 1 inch for citrus. You want to be able to pick up the orange bits from the peel with your fingers and bite off the flesh.
Choose your wine
There are fewer rules for choosing wine for sangria. Tradition will point you toward something like Spanish Rioja, but almost any red can be light to medium-bodied. White wine makes great white sangria, and rose works well for a timid version. In fact, the only things to avoid are high-quality liquor, which would be a waste of money because they lose the nuances of a jug of sangria, and a big tannic red, which can produce an overly tart drink.
Get the proportions: What are the best proportions for sangria?
Sangria can be easily mixed to taste and will vary depending on the wine and fruit used and the tastes of the person making it. You can just throw the wine into a jug and add some fruit and citrus juices, then let it sit for a while. When ready to serve, stir in a simple syrup and drink until everything is good, hit it with some soda if you like, make any final adjustments, and serve.
However, it is helpful to have some guidelines to get you to the approximate pitch. I mixed several batches of sangria in different proportions based on a survey of sangria recipes I found in books and on the internet. My own recipe is strong at the end of booze, with a full glass of brandy or rum per 750ml bottle of wine, one 12-ounce can of soda, and about a quarter cup of simple syrup.
For citrus juices, I started my test with 3 tablespoons of a 50/50 mix of freshly squeezed orange and lemon juice per 750ml of wine, but eventually turned the mix around to be more orange-heavy and increased the total to just over a quarter cup.
All of this, though, can be dialed in to suit your tastes and to adjust the differences in the wine and fruit used.