How many directions can you take Sangria?
The classic combination of tempranillo-based Rioja, sliced citrus, orange liqueur and perhaps Spanish brandy dumped into a pitcher with lots of drink-watering ice has long been the default recipe. But modern American drink-making has taken the light and festive summer combination and swapped in endless combinations of base ingredient, fortifier and fruit ideas.
Fruit purées, for instance, are frequently added, creating a sweeter and slightly thicker sort of drink. Juices, too, are commonly added in, orange especially, making the drink more like a watered down wine Screwdriver than the Spanish refresher was ever meant to resemble.
But taking their cue from the important origin of the drink – a sort of wine punch meant to slake thirsts during the sultry Spanish summers – new Sangria recipes have been tweaked and teased to fit modern sensibilities. White Sangria especially, often served with peaches and even mint, has become an easy service extension in many restaurants.
What else can be done to enliven the big selling quaff? Start with the white variant: white wines from Spain like albarino make great sense, better than oaky, inexpensive California chardonnays. Lightly effervescent vinho verde from Portugal, generally low in alcohol and low-priced, allow drink makers to provide a tiny bit of bubble without the sugar sodas some restaurants favor. Cava, the Spanish sparkler, can allow any operation with a successful Sangria program to create a third style, this time with more assertive bubbles and perhaps a higher charge. Rosé this time of year is a big seller in some parts of the country, and a Sangria made with, say, garnacha rosé, some pureed raspberries or strawberries, a touch of pomegranate juice and lemon balm, could be the perfect August limited-time thirst quencher.
Here's a recent example of what a little tweaking can do. Plan B, a new tapas bar in New York City, recently opened with reconstructed white and red Sangrias – Sangre Mixto (Rioja crianza, green Chartreuse, Cardinal Mendoza Spanish Brandy and soda) and Blancas de la Sangre Caliente (the Basque white wine Txakolina , jalapeño-infused tequila, pineapple, lemon and pomegranate seeds). Not necessarily complicated, but certainly novel.
Beyond wine, the fortifying spirits can and should be experimented with as well. Vermouths add a more herbal touch. Popular contemporary liqueurs made with elderflowers, ginger, hibiscus or lemon grass, can add just the right new zip. Fresh herbs and fruits, added a la minute to the pitcher or prepared and batched together in advance, can make the basis for great signature ideas. And don’t forget the possibilities of building a new Sangria outside the box: white port, lemons, oranges, a dash of ruby port and some sparkling water or wine can bring a whole new dimension to the idea of Sangria in a customer’s mind.
Think of it as punch in a pitcher or the kind of wine cooler you might serve to friends who don’t favor beer on a hot summer day in the backyard. Sangria of any sort should be fun, quaffable, festive and carefree, even if the drink design deserves careful thought to make that happen.