Last week, Dare gave you ideas for some wine cocktails. Since Cinco de Mayo is this week I thought I’d give you a recipe for Sangria, the ultimate wine cocktail (or if not the ultimate, at least one that you can make in a big batch and keep for a couple of days).
Sangria was in the news a lot a couple of years ago, especially in this area. Virginia used to have a law that prevented bars and restaurants from serving it. That law prohibited mixing wine or beer and hard liquor. And since most real Sangria has some sort of alcohol or liqueur in it, you couldn’t buy it to drink in Virginia. While some restaurants served it – and received citations – other restaurants reformulated their Sangria without hard liquor to comply with the law.
Once the state got some well-deserved ridicule about being Sangria-free, the law was changed in 2008 – not eliminated, mind you, but Sangria was given an exemption and now you can buy “real” Sangria in Virginia restaurants. You still can’t buy a Kir Royale (Champagne and Crème de Cassis) or other cocktails with champagne and liqueurs together, but they don’t have the constituency that Sangria does, so there you have it.
Restaurant owners were no doubt overjoyed about the change in the law, because a lot of Sangria is made with cheap (and possibly leftover) wine. Just add a bit o’booze, some sugar, and some diced-up fruit and you can charge big bucks for it. And there’s nothing wrong with that, really (other than the high price) – it’s probably the way Sangria was “invented,” anyway. The additions can cover a lot of faults: if you’ve got a white wine that’s past its prime and a little flat, add a bit more lime or lemon juice and you’ll never know. A red wine that’s too harsh? Add a little more sugar.
The thing is, though, you can make much better Sangria if you use better ingredients, and that includes the wine. No need to go overboard here. But if you’re interested in something more than a fruit and booze concoction, a wine with good fruit flavor will add more depth to the Sangria (and you won’t need it to look like canned fruit cocktail, either). Start with a medium to full-bodied wine, like Meridiana Wine Estate’s Isis Chardonnay (on sale for $16) or Cave la Romaine Séguret Rouge ($15). Both make a great Sangria.
Likewise with the liqueur. I like to bake and so have a bunch of different liqueurs around like Calvados, Crème de Cassis, Cognac, Framboise, etc. You don’t have to have top-of-the-line stuff, but they keep pretty much indefinitely in the cabinet. And since Cinco de Mayo is supposed to be a celebration of the victory of Mexican fighters over the French, it seems fitting to use French liqueurs anyway 😉
The key is to use a light hand and keep it refreshing. Sangria should pack a little more punch than a wine cooler, but be light enough that you don’t feel hammered when you drink it. Still, you want to maximize flavor. For me, that means using good-tasting liqueurs. And also some dried fruit, apricots for white wine Sangria and cherries for red wine Sangria. Soak them in hot water to rehydrate them, then add sugar to the soaking liquid and use that mixture to sweeten the Sangria.
The other key is to make the Sangria mixture the night before you want to serve it and let it sit in the fridge for the flavors to mingle and mellow. It actually keeps for a couple of days if you cover the pitcher, and that way you can have it practically anytime. If you’re in a hurry, though, a couple of hours of chilling time is fine.
I get some kidding about the level of complexity of recipes I post on this blog – and this one may seem like too much work for something as simple as Sangria (which can be nothing more than wine and fruit soda mixed together). Since I like cooking, I enjoy recipes that are a little work. But not if the result isn’t worth it, which I think this one definitely is. So give it a try and see what you think. Serve it with any appetizer or finger food you like. I like salty and/or cheesy more than subtle and creamy with Sangria, but that’s up to you. Just make sure to have plenty of food on hand. This stuff will sneak up on you!
Makes 8 – 12 drinks
One 750 ml bottle dry white or red wine
½ cup Calvados or apple brandy
2 tablespoons Cognac or brandy
1 small apple, diced
1 small orange, diced, plus another sliced orange for garnish
12 grapes, cut in half
4 tablespoons sugar
Club soda or seltzer
For white wine Sangria: 1/3 cup chopped dried apricots
For red wine Sangria: 1/3 cup chopped dried cherries
Put the dried fruit in a small bowl and pour ¾ cup of boiling water over it. Let the fruit soak for a half hour. With your hands, remove the fruit and gently squeeze it over the bowl to remove some of the liquid. Set the fruit aside. Measure out the soaking liquid; there should be at least a quarter cup. Put the liquid in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil – if you have more than a half cup of liquid, reduce it to a quarter cup. Then add the sugar, stir to dissolve, and set it aside to cool.
In the meantime, remove the peel from the lemon in strips with a vegetable peeler. Juice the lemon and set the juice aside.
Put the diced fruit, the grapes, and the lemon peel in a large non-reactive pitcher. Add the wine and the liqueurs, along with the soaked dried fruit. Add 2 tablespoons of the sugar mixture and about a tablespoon of lemon juice and stir to mix. Taste the mixture and add a little more sugar mixture or lemon juice to taste. Cover the pitcher with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge a couple of hours or overnight.
To serve, fill a highball glass about a quarter of the way with ice. Fill the glass about 2/3 full with the Sangria mixture, including some fruit. Top with club soda or seltzer, add a slice of orange, and enjoy.