Red Wine Sangria 101

Red Wine Sangria 101

When you think of red wine, odds are you think of a dry wine automatically.  The vast majority of red wines are indeed dry, but there are a few types of sweet red wine.  There are also mixed drinks which are sweet and include red wine as part of the recipe.  One such sweet beverage is sangria.  Sangria is a drink which comes from Spain and Portugal and traditionally includes red wine (though white may also be used), a little brandy, some sweetener, and chopped fruit.  Herbs and spices may also be used.


Sangria History

While Sangria is a delightful and fun drink to mix and enjoy, its actual history is less than illustrious.  Sangria has been around for thousands of years, and dates back to ancient Rome.  During that time, the Romans were planting vineyards in Portugal and Spain.  The water in the area had problems with bacterial contamination, so it became common to add alcohol to the water in order to try and kill the contaminants.  The wines in the area were low in quality, so watering them down and adding in fruits and sweeteners served the secondary purpose of disguising the poor quality.  The name “sangria” comes from the Spanish word for “bloodletting,” and refers to the color for the red wine.

It is believed that sangria first was spread to red-wine enthusiasts in the United States during the New York World’s Fair in 1964.  Sangria has become a popular drink worldwide, and together with tapas, symbolizes the idea of Spanish cuisine for many Spanish restaurant-goers.  Sangria is typically homemade, and many restaurants and bars have their own unique recipes.  You may find entire menus of sangrias to try, and at home, you can learn how to mix your own sangrias.

Ironically (or perhaps not, considering that sangria was originally popularized by Roman invaders in Spain and Portugal), sangria is far more popular with foreigners than it is with Spanish and Portuguese people.  Many of the cocktails you can find in Madrid are not nearly as vibrant and sophisticated as those you can enjoy in a restaurant in the United States or another foreign country.  Sangria is a very common drink in Spain and Portugal, but the recipes are usually less elaborate.


Common Sangria Ingredients

What ingredients are commonly used to make sangria?  Again, red wine is the traditional base, and the most common.  Usually the alcohol content of sangria ranges between 4 and 11 percent (how much depends on how much the drink is watered down).  Brandy is usually added, and sometimes soda is put into the mix to introduce some carbonation as well.  Red wine may be replaced by white wine or mulled wine in some variations.  Non-alcoholic sangria can be made with grape juice.

Sweeteners may vary as well.  Sugar is commonly used, but honey and syrup may work as well.  Sometimes fruit juice is used in place of a sweetener (the sugars in the fruit juice provide the sweetness).  You can put pretty much any fruit you want into sangria, but common choices include citruses like lemon, lime, orange, pineapple, mango, melon, kiwi, or peach.  The fruit is usually chopped into small cubes.  Usually the fruit is mixed together with the other ingredients.  If soda is being added, that is set aside until later, along with ice, because sangria needs time to steep.  This allows all the flavors to meld together.  After a few hours, ice or soda may be added as desired without melting or going flat.  Then the drink is ready to be served.

What should you know about ordering sangria at restaurants?  It is important to realize that the quality of sangria can vary wildly, as can the amount of alcohol in the drink.  Always ask about ingredients as well as alcohol content before you order sangria at a restaurant.  Some restaurants make amazing sangria, while others do not.  Check reviews or ask around.  Many restaurants and bars which are known for their sangria spread their reputations via word-of-mouth.


Berry-Arugula-Sangria-3Easy Home Sangria Recipes

One of the best ways to enjoy sangria is to make it yourself at home with a little red wine, sweetener, and fruit slices.  As you learn about sangria, you can start making your own recipes from scratch.  Here are a couple of easy sangria recipes to try first:


Berry Sangria

It is hard to go wrong with berry-based sangria.  The flavors meld very naturally with red wine, making it a perfect starting point for a beginner.  You will need:

  • 1 bottle of a red wine of your choosing

  • ½ cup raspberries

  • ½ cup blueberries

  • ½ cup strawberries

  • ½ cup blackberries

  • ½ cup sugar (or to taste)

  • 1 bottle of ginger ale (or water, if you do not like carbonation)

  • 2 ounces of brandy


Mix all your ingredients together in advance since they will need some time to chill and meld together.  Do not add the ginger ale at this point, or it will go flat.  Do not add ice either, since it will simply melt.  After a few hours, the sangria will be fully mixed and ready to drink.  At this point, you can add in your ginger ale and/or ice.  It only takes 10 minutes to prepare, so as long as you plan in advance for the waiting time, it will be ready to go!


Watermelon Sangria

Here is another fun and refreshing sangria recipe.  This one uses white wine:

  • 1 bottle of dry white wine (sherry or another wine of your choice)

  • 6 ounces of vodka

  • 4 ounces of triple sec of your choice

  • 4 ounces of citrus syrup

  • 2 ½ pounds of cubed, seedless watermelon


Blend 2 pounds worth of watermelon in a blender, and then strain the blended watermelon into a pitcher along with the rest of your ingredients.  Stir and refrigerate your sangria for several hours, and enjoy once it is fully blended.  Once again, remember not to add any ice until the end.

Now you are ready to make your own sangria at home.  This is one of the few ways you can enjoy red wine with a sweet taste.  Its easy customizability makes it one of the most popular mixed drinks in the world.  It is a perfect beverage to serve at parties to impress your guests.  Be creative, and have fun!

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