The sunshine brings out the terraces and the terraces bring out the tourists. When foreigners come to Spain to wallow in its culture and food heritage and simmer under its forceful sun, there is one drink they are all primed, all ready, all keen as beans to try: Sangria.
I must admit, hands up proffering full disclosure, I don’t really like it that much, I almost never drink it, and neither do the Spanish really. That being said it is a real legit drink here, it’s just that the Spanish a) prefer beer and wine and mixed drinks and b) know it’s hard to find a genuine sangria and not a tourist trap knock off.
So, without further ado, and as the clouds roll away and the sunbeams stream in, it’s time to demystify this country’s most famous beverage!
It seems that there are a couple of competing stories concerning the provenance of this most famous drink, one of which – almost unsurprisingly given how much we imbibe it – can be attributed to the English. This, however, hasn’t stopped recent efforts by Spain to make an official denominación de origen for Sangria.
One idea seems to fairly state that sangria was an aromatised wine that grew out of the red wine making traditions of the country in the 19th century. Indeed, the idea of aromatising wine is not a new one. The Romans added honey, herbs and spices to their wines to make them more interesting and, usually, more palatable.
But according to father Esteban Torres in his 1788 tome Diccionario del Castellano, sangria was ‘a drink invented by the English that they used to drink often in the English and French colonies in the Americas.’ Another report explains that some of the Spanish colonies in the Americas were drinking something called limonada del vino (wine lemonade). Therefore it was probably a drink, or summery punch that was perhaps already drunk there or at least evolved there.
The name sangria seems to be the English pronunciation of sangre – ‘sangaree’, blood, to describe the colour. Then, via the very nature of colony, presumably it made its way back to the homeland and become the sangria we all know and love.
Now, as with a lot of dishes in Spain, there are myriad variations on what constitutes a sangria. It is by its very nature essentially a sort of summery punch. However there are some base ingredients that form the backbone of any jug of juice that cares to call itself sangria.
- Red wine
- Casera (sweet soda water)
- Fruit (usually oranges, apples, lemons, peaches etc)
- Orange juice
Mix them all up in a big jug with ice cubes and let it sit, preferably for a couple of hours so that the fruit has a chance to steep and add flavour and depth to the final punch.
With that framework one can get to tinkering with it and making it different and unique. Pedro from the Taberna Real in the centre of Madrid took me step by step through their one. First, in a jug with a tablespoon of sugar at the bottom, he pours in a healthy few glugs of gin followed by Cointreau and brandy. Then, because you need more alcohol, some Spanish vermouth. Following the booze, a small bottle of orange juice is chucked in and swiftly accompanied by red wine. This fills almost half the jug. To finish he adds the soda water, ice and fruit. And voila.
For me, the addition of liquors is the only sign that I might like a sangria in a bar. It means I’m probably getting a ‘real’ sangria as opposed to the tourist stuff. The touristy version is often the same but without the more expensive spirits inside and they’ll be firing the stuff out – i.e. not giving the fruit time to steep. Essentially a sugary light cocktail instead of the deep flavour and boozy brilliance of a legit sangria.
Finally, if you’re worried about a hangover from all the alcohol in the sangria, just follow the advice of Paco from the Mesón del Champiñon: ‘just add cinnamon, then you’ll not get hungover’.
It does not work.
Also, keep your eyes and tonsils peeled for some similar fruity Spanish punches. Sangria blanca (white sangria), which is the same drink but with white wine and usually lacking orange juice, tinto de verano (summer red wine), which is a light spritzer of red wine and soda water or lemonade, and rebujito (a traditional Andalusian Sherry Cobbler popular at the ferias), which is usually Sherry wine mixed with soda water and maybe sugar and lemon juice.
Where I drink it:
Madrid – Cuevas de Sésamo (Calle del Principe, 7), Mesón del Champiñon (Cava de San Miguel, 17), Ojala, for white wine sangria (Calle de San Andrés, 1), Taberna Real (Plaza de Isabel II, 8), El Sur (Calle de la Torrecilla del Leal, 12), Saporem (Calle Ventura de la Vega, 5).
I don’t really like sangria too much, so the only time you might ever catch me drinking it is on a very hot day probably, living up to the stereotype, at the beach.
What I eat with it:
Nothing ‘pairs’ with sangria, but I’ll happily eat whatever free nibbles are given with it – olives, crisps, peanuts. Maybe take a sneaky bag of gummy bears along with you.
What I listen to when I drink:
Yo Te Quiero Siempre – Pink Martini