Sangria is like summer itself: always good, but rarely as great as it could be. Due to their respective built-in advantages of cold, fruity alcohol and relative proximity to the sun, sangria and summer are tough to fuck up. But these same inherent strengths can lull us into a laziness that prevents us from maximizing their potential.
There’s nothing wrong with dumping a couple of grapes in a rinsed-out coffee cup full of gas-station white zinfandel and venturing forth into the sun for an afternoon stroll through the same damn park you walk through on the way to work all winter. If you do that, you will be happy. But let’s try to get even happier.
It’s not really my place to disinfect your overall summer routine—maybe use sunscreen and deodorant, ad actually go to the beach two times, and sit in some grass after work once in a while?—but I am here to fix your sad-ass version of the iconic summertime giggle juice.
1 bottle chilled red wine
1 bottle chilled white wine
½ cup brandy
¼ cup Cointreau
½ cup grapefruit juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1 pint strawberries
1 bottle sparkling water
1. Cut the strawberries into ¼-inch slices. Vertically or horizontally? Doesn’t matter. Just get yourself a big pile of strawberry slivers.
2. Put the berries in the bottom of a big pitcher, then cover them with the sugar.
3. Take a healthy swig from the bottle of white wine. Refreshing, right? Now add the remainder of the white and all of the red to the pitcher.
4. Add the brandy, Cointreau, and grapefruit juice.
5. Stir your sangria several times, then refrigerate it for an hour (or as long as you can spare).
6. Pour sangria into ice-filled glasses and top with a generous shot of sparkling water.
1. Sure, you could just use two bottles of pink wine. There’s plenty of decent $7 rosé in the grocery store these days. And if you are averse to either red or white, it’s perfectly permissible to double up on the one you prefer. But wouldn’t you rather feel like a mad booze scientist by combining colors?
Anyhow, your white wine should be on the light and fruity side. I like cheap vinho verde or viognier in sangria, but you’re probably going to go with Two-Buck Chuck or some shit, likely pinot grigio. That’s fine. Just don’t use anything oaky. As for the red, avoid heavily tannic tough-guy juice like cabernet sauvignon. Try gamay, grenache, or merlot; the younger and cheaper, the better.
2. You want to use cheap brandy, too; save the Hennessy for a more straightforward affair. If you want to mix it up (or empty out the weirder corners of your liquor cabinet), you could use calvados, applejack, pear brandy, or just about any other distilled fruit juice you have lying around. Stay away from shitty artificially flavored brandies, though. Six-dollar pints of blackberry brandy are for snowplow drivers who need a little extra fortification in their Dunkin Donuts coffee. Real brandy is for your sangria.
3. Nah, you don’t need to blow $35 on a bottle of Cointreau if you don’t happen to have any on hand. Just don’t use abominable low-end triple sec. Better to do without than to undermine the whole operation by dumping in a glug of bright-orange sugary bullshit. Other possible tertiary alcohols include gin and dark rum. If you can get your hands on it, try Bully Boy’s Hub Punch, a fruit-infused rum deal available in the more tasteful of the New English states.
4. If grapefruit’s not your favorite juice, stop and ask yourself why the Christ not. Or use orange juice. You can also squeeze a couple lemons and/or limes in there instead or in addition; just don’t use quite so much as you would of one of the more traditional drinkin’ juices. A lot of sangrias feature sliced citrus, but that’s just for show. You don’t need nasty-ass lemon rinds floating around in your drink, so make the effort to extract the juice and ditch the wrapper.
5. While we’re at it: fruit. I chose strawberries for the base recipe, because they’re all over the place in my region this time of year, plus they’re delicious. But you really should use the six-buck-a-pint farmer’s market ones. The grocery-store berries in the plastic cages are bred for prettiness and shelf-stability, and while you certainly want your sangria to look sharp, the fruit’s primary job is to add flavor. That’s why there’s very little point in slicing up apples or any other low-juice fruit that will enhance the spectacle but not the flavor. Might as well float some frigging diamonds in there at that point, or almonds. Peaches are good, though. Watermelon, too, and all sorts of berries, excepting maybe the blue ones, unless you want to slice them first (you don’t!), because blueberries have tough skins that make it harder for them to infuse much flavor into your sangria in a timely manner.
6. About the sparkling water: Yes, of course, you should use prosecco or cava or some other fizzy wine instead! But I like to keep sangria around wine-strength, is the thing, just for easier accounting. So if you add both brandy and another alcohol, you might want to cut things back down with virgin bubbles, especially if you punk out on the grapefruit juice. You know what else might be good for the last-step effervescing element? Wheat beer, either a hefeweizen or Belgian wit, or a simple-but-not-shitty lager, maybe even a fruitier pale ale. Just some brewski, friend, whatever you like. Though I guess porter would be weird.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.
Image by Sam Woolley.
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