Sangria is the world’s most democratic beverage – all things to all people. And it’s just the thing for summer.
At its simplest, it’s red, white or rose´ wine with juice, fruit and water – still or sparkling. Lower in alcohol than regular wine, light in body, a bit sweet from the juices.
At its most bombastic, it can also have sugar, rum, vodka, absinthe, elderflower liqueur and/or a dozen other additions that can make it powerful and alcoholic, best drunk just before a long summer’s nap. In either case, while the weather’s warm, it’s best served chilled – in big pitchers jammed with ice cubes.
Sangria’s finest accolade is that you, the sipper, can make it exactly what you want. It has no official recipe.
Sangria’s history is democratic too, in that one person’s version arguably is as authentic as another’s.
Some historians say poor people in Spain during its Roman occupation, as early as 200 B.C., were cutting their wine with water for purposes of thrift and sobriety, then adding chunks of fruit to make up for the dilution.
Others say that by the 1700s, Brits and Continentals were making Claret Cup Punch of red Bordeaux grapes like cabernet sauvignon with brandy and fruit added.
By the 1830s, nearly every province in Spain had its own version – and each to this day vows its sangria is the world’s finest.
America was introduced to sangria at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City, some historians say. Others find U.S. versions being served at Southern plantations in the 1930s.
Basic sangria with only wine, fruit juice, sugar and soda is low in alcohol, maybe 8 percent as opposed to about 12 percent for uncut wine. But if you add high-proof liquor or liqueurs, the result can pack a punch. Brandy is about 40 percent alcohol; vodka, whiskey and such can be even higher. And liqueurs, from Framboise to Triple Sec to Chartreuse, can range from 5 to 55 percent alcohol.
I saw a sangria recipe online that called for a full bottle of wine, a half cup of brandy, a half cup of triple sec, a full bottle of vodka and 10 grapes. Well, plus some 7UP.
So you might want to try to compute the alcohol level of the recipe you choose.
In the U.S. today, OFFbeat Brands is offering a low-alcohol Spanish-style sangria made of verdejo, one of Spain’s top white grapes, or tempranillo, the red Rioja grape plus several flavors of fruit juice.
My own favorite version is a bottle of white, rose´ or white wine, a half cup of brandy, a half-bottle of seltzer water plus slices of oranges, lemons and limes – in a big, ice-cubed pitcher.
For you, my suggestion is to Google sangria and choose ingredients and methods to suit your own taste. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”
• Nonvintage Slices Red Wine Sangria, Spain (tempranillo grape plus orange, lime and blackberry juices, 9 percent alcohol): deep purple, intensely fruity aromas and flavors, sweet-tart finish; $10.
• Nonvintage Slices White Wine Sangria, Spain (verdejo grape with lime, lemon and pineapple juices (8.5 percent alcohol): pale straw color, floral aromas, intensely fruity flavors, sweet-tart finish; $10.
• Nonvintage Slices Rose´ Sangria, Spain (tempranillo grapes, lemon, lime and strawberry juices, 8.5 percent alcohol): bright pink color, intensely fruity flavors, sweet-tart finish; $10.
• Nonvintage Slices Rose Sparkling Sangria, Spain (tempranillo grape with lime, lemon and strawberry juices): pink color, intensely fruity aromas and flavors, sweet-tart finish, softly sparkling; $10.