This piece originally appeared on Fix.com.
The fine-wine cognoscenti might sometimes turn their vino-sniffing noses up at the thought of sangria, a combination of wine and fruit that aims for refreshment and fun over complexity and haughtiness. That’s a shame, because sangria is not only pure party material but also has a rich history of its own and enough variation to please just about any palate. If you doubt its seriousness, bear in mind that, just as there are specific stemware designs for wines made from certain grape varieties and in different regions, sangria now has its own dedicated glass!
Sangria’s origins probably date back to the Middle Ages, during a time when water was unhealthy to drink and drinking fermented beverages carried a much lower risk of causing illness. During this time, people would mix wine, which was much lighter and less potent than what we are used to today, with spices such as cinnamon.
“Sangria” is the Spanish term for a mix of fruit and wine that became popular in Europe in the subsequent centuries, and the drink emerged on the American culinary radar when it was served in New York at the Spanish World Area during the 1964 World’s Fair. The word “sangria” is much more serious than the drink itself: it comes from the Latin word for blood, thanks to the original sangria’s reddish hue, a result of the red wine first used to make it. Since then, various European countries and hundreds of restaurants have created their own variations on the sangria theme. Spain alone offers quite a few traditional options based on region, with sparkling recipes coming from the areas that produce Cava, for example.
While you can buy high-quality, ready-made sangrias, it’s also a lot of fun to start with a wine that you enjoy and your favorite fruits and spices and take a shot at making your own. For wine lovers, here are some suggestions for getting into the sangria groove, based on wine type.
The traditional Spanish version of sangria utilizes wine made from Tempranillo, the grape responsible for the famous red wines of that country’s Rioja region. You can substitute your own favorite in place of Rioja in just about any red wine sangria recipe. Just keep in mind that not all red wines will take to a sangria mix equally well. For a more drinkable sangria concoction, look for dry red wines that are reasonably priced and tasty and offer simple, fruit-driven flavors and aromas. It’s best to avoid older red wines (which are usually too delicate for mixing), tannic reds (which might make the sangria taste astringent), and overly complex wines (which are often more expensive and usually best left to be consumed on their own or paired with a meal rather than having their more interesting aromas and flavors mixed away).
Interestingly, it’s actually a bit harder to find the right white wine and fruit combination for a good sangria. This is because white wines tend to show their fruitier side more, so you will need to pay special attention to what grapes are used in the white wine sangria recipe you are preparing. For example, a Sauvignon Blanc that’s jumping with citrus aromas might not meld that well with a sangria recipe that calls for a lot of lime and lemon, as the total citrus and acidity might make the sangria less appealing overall. You’ll need to experiment a bit, but lighter, un-oaked Chardonnays tend to do well, as do Chenin Blanc wines. As with red wine sangria recipes, you should aim for simple and tasty and avoid older white wines, expensive and complex white wines, and fuller-bodied white wines like oaked Chardonnay.
With the plethora of excellent dry rosé wines available, don’t overlook using a pink wine for your sangria. These have the added benefit of creating some naturally beautiful color combinations for the resulting drink, given that rosés can be found in every pink hue from light salmon to blood-red. Not surprisingly, given the lighter red berry flavors and aromas presented by many rosés, this wine type tends to do best in sangria recipes that include raspberries, cranberries, and peaches as the main fruit ingredient.
If you’re considering giving your sangria a vivacious kick, try using a sparkling wine in the recipe instead of still wine. Just as with still wines, simple and fruity options will work best; think Spanish Cava or Italian Prosecco, both of which are good, value-priced options. Most sparkling wines will work in sangria recipes that call for white wines, and rosé bubblies can be substituted in sangria recipes that include rosé still wines. The key to using sparkling wine in sangria isn’t so much the choice of bubbly as it is how you prepare the recipe. Many sangria recipes specify soaking the ingredients for an extended period. While that will help to integrate the flavors in the sangria, an extended soak will be murder on the sparkling wine, causing it to dissipate its bubbles. In this case, it’s best to let all of the other ingredients combine and then open and add the sparkling wine just before serving.
Sweet wines might not seem like a winning sangria option, but with a little careful planning, a dessert sipper can produce a tasty and memorable mix. The trick? Look for simple, fruity, sweet wines that aren’t pushing the sugar levels or the alcohol content (fortified wines like port, Madeira, and Marsala, while excellent for some mixed drinks, are best avoided here). To maximize your chances of a winning sangria combination when using a sweeter wine, look for recipes that call for fruit with a lot of mouth-puckering acidity, such as pomegranates, lemons, oranges, and limes. That extra jolt of acidity will help to counteract the sugar in the sweet wine, making the sangria taste a little drier overall and improving the sense of balance of the various ingredients when you drink it.
Whether you choose to use red, white, rosé, sparkling, or dessert wine in your sangria, the process of making and drinking this versatile drink is a great way to celebrate the warming weather and a different, more party-oriented take on wine this spring and summer.