Sangria - Summer's Ultimate Libation

Between the thinning ozone and rising temperatures, this country is developing a palpable thirst. And to be honest, we’re a nation that gets cranky when parched. On those summer nights when the A/C isn’t cutting it, Manhattan-based consultant Jerri Banks advises you seek the sanctuary of Sangria.

 “Seriously, it’s difficult for me to imagine anything more thirst quenching and delicious than Sangria. Best of all, it’s a forgiving concoction, so you can’t go too far wrong. The classic punch is traditionally made with red wine, fresh fruit, and a wide assortment of spirits and liqueurs. It’s easy to prepare and a perfect companion for light summer fare, all of which explains why Sangrias are now becoming so popular at tapas bars and Latin restaurants everywhere.”

A seasoned mixologist, with what amounts to a post-graduate degree on the subject, Banks often prepares her Sangrias with white wine instead of red. As evidence, she produced the recipe for a concoction appropriately called Sangria Blanc that she says has wowed many a crowd. In addition, dry white wine, Bank’s thirst buster is constructed with pisco brandy, cardamom seeds, green grapes, lemon thyme, and fresh lemon juice, which she combines in a container and steeps refrigerated overnight.

 “The Sangria should be served well-chilled from a glass pitcher so guests can see how beautiful the drink looks, and I like garnishing each serving with a skewer of fresh berries.” For outdoor events, Banks suggests freezing a portion of the Sangria beforehand in ice trays. The frozen cubes can then be added to the punch throughout the evening to keep the drink cold without it becoming watered down.

Like most Americans, Sangria is not originally from these parts. It originated in Spain and Portugal as a drink of the people, a celebration of summer. It made its U.S. debut in 1905 in Ybor City, a historic community just outside of Tampa. That year the family-owned Columbia Restaurant opened its doors serving up authentic Spanish and Cuban cuisine, and pitchers of icy cold Sangria prepared fresh at tableside. All were a smash hit.

While now considerably larger, the Columbia Restaurant continues to flourish in the same location on 7th Avenue with the same family at the helm. On a recent visit, staffer Sebastian Herrera deftly prepared for our table a pitcher of Columbia’s now famous Sangria Y Toro. Working on a clothed cart, he quartered a lemon and orange, squeezed the juice into an iced pitcher, added sugar, a split of Torres Sangre Spanish Red Wine, and a healthy measure of brandy and orange liqueur. Sebastian doted over the concoction, stirring it gently, all the while reminding us that patience is a virtue. After a few banter-filled minutes the Sangria was pronounced ready.

It was immediately apparent he was right. What minutes before appeared like a formulaic mélange now had the enticing look of a drink skillfully crafted. Its succulent, fresh fruit bouquet was intoxicating, a lavish affair accentuated with spicy, oaky notes of brandy. The Sangria was delicious goes without saying. What does merit mentioning is that none of us have been thirsty since.


Steeping Like Pros

Sangria is marvelously accommodating, its creative range only limited by the availability of fresh produce. Most seasonal fruits are well cast in the lead roles, especially lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit. Their high acidity will balance the drink’s natural sweetness and keep the other fruit in the mix from discoloring. As for the rest of the crew, a varied assortment of apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, blackberries, strawberries, and grapes are enlisted for added dimension, fragrance, and color contrast.

Classically styled Sangria is made using red wine, with the famed Spanish wines from Rioja or Penedes being traditional selections. Dry, big-bodied California Zinfandels or Cabernet Sauvignons are also equal to the task. In a supporting role, Champagnes and sparkling wine are often added for a splash of effervescence. The choice of wines is entirely a matter of personal preference.

Nacional 27 in Chicago promotes a particularly delectable White Sangria concocted with South American Chardonnay and a bracer of Peruvian pisco brandy. The Pomegranate & Peach Sangria at Houston’s Backstreet Cafe is a blend of pomegranate juice, fresh pureed peaches, guava nectar, orange juice, Cointreau and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

At the end of the process, after all of the disparate ingredients have been added, the only thing left to do is place the container of Sangria in the refrigerator, and let it steep overnight. This will allow the flavors of the wine, fruit and spirits time to fully integrate.

And when that happens, Columbia’s Herrera contends, “Sangria is heavenly.”


Sangria Blanc (makes 10-12 servings)
Specialty of Jerri Banks, beverage consultant, New York, NY

64 ounces White Wine (the drier, the better)
13 ounces Pisco Brandy
1/8-cup cardamom seeds
1 cup crushed green grapes
1 lemon cut in 1/4" slices
4-5 sprigs lemon thyme
2 ounces fresh lemon juice
4 ounces simple syrup

Combine all of the ingredients in a container and let steep refrigerated for about 24 hours. Prior to serving, strain off most of the solids, leaving some to remain in the Sangria for visual effect. Serve chilled from a glass pitcher into tumblers or wine glasses. Garnish with fresh berry skewers. For outdoor events, freeze a portion of the Sangria beforehand in an ice tray or stainless container. It can be used during the function to keep the Sangria cold without it becoming watered down.

Sangria y Toro (makes 4-5 servings)
Specialty of Columbia House, Ybor City, FL

13 ounces Torres Sangre de Toro Spanish Red Wine
2 1/2 ounces Torres 10 Imperial Brandy Gran Reserva
2 ounces Gran Torres Orange Liqueur
1 ounce simple syrup
2 oranges, quartered
1 lemon, quartered

Squeeze the juice from one lemon and orange into an iced 32-ounce pitcher. Add red wine, brandy, orange liqueur, and simple syrup, and then stir thoroughly. Serve over ice and garnish with freshly cut fruit.

Pomegranate and Peach White Sangria (makes 6-10 servings)
Specialty of Backstreet Cafe, Houston, TX

26 ounces New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
8 ounces Cointreau
8 ounces pomegranate juice
7 ounces pureed fresh peaches
6 ounces guava nectar
4 ounces fresh orange juice
2 ounces simple syrup
1 peach, cut into slices
1 orange, cut into slices
1 lime, cut into slices

Combine the ingredients—except sliced peaches—in a container and let steep refrigerated overnight. Prior to serving, add in the sliced peaches, stir thoroughly, and transfer to a pitcher. Serve over ice and garnish with freshly cut fruit.

The Spanish Kitchen’s Red Sangria (makes 10-12 servings)
Specialty of The Spanish Kitchen, Los Angeles, CA

66 ounces Dry Red Wine
9 ounces Presidente Brandy
9 ounces Cruzan Citrus Rum
1/4-ounce whole cloves wrapped in coffee filter (remove after 24 hours)
6 ounces canned mandarine oranges (with syrup)

Combine all of the ingredients in a container and let steep refrigerated for 24 hours. Prior to serving, remove the wrapped cloves, stir thoroughly, and transfer to a pitcher. Serve over ice and garnish with Sangria-steeped fruit.

Rosemary’s Red Sangria (makes 12-14 servings)
Specialty of Rosemary’s Restaurant, Las Vegas, NV

50 ounces Dry Red Wine (light- to medium-bodied)
13 ounces Dry Sparkling Wine
10 ounces Brandy
4 ounces fresh lime juice
4 ounces ruby red grapefruit juice
4 ounces pomegranate juice
6 ounces simple syrup
16 ounces fresh orange juice

Combine all of the ingredients in a container and let steep refrigerated overnight. Prior to serving, stir thoroughly and transfer to a pitcher. Serve over ice and garnish with fresh orange slices, grapes, and lime wedge.

Nacional 27 White Sangria (makes 10-12 servings)
Specialty of Nacional 27, Chicago, IL

58 ounces South American Sauvignon Blanc
9 ounces DeKuyper Peachtree Schnapps
5 ounces Pisco Brandy
3 ounces simple syrup
6 ounces fresh lemon juice
3 cinnamon sticks
2 naval oranges
2 Granny Smith apples
San Pellegrino Sparkling Water

Combine the ingredients—except San Pellegrino—in a container and let steep refrigerated for 24 hours. Prior to serving, stir thoroughly, and transfer to a pitcher. Serve over ice in a wine glass, add a healthy splash of San Pellegrino, and garnish with an orange wedge.

Sangria de Martinique (makes 10-12 servings)
Specialty of Janos Restaurant, Tucson, AZ

26 ounces Dry Red Wine
10 ounces Clément V.S.O.P. Rhum
10 ounces Clément Creole Shrubb
8 ounces fresh orange juice
8 ounces pomegranate juice
7 ounces fresh lemon juice
6 ounces fresh lime juice
4 ounces agave nectar
2 ounces simple syrup
12-15 fresh raspberries
10-12 fresh blackberries
1 lemon, cut into slices
2 oranges, cut into slices
1-750ml chilled brut Champagne

Combine red wine, Clément Rhum, Creole Shrubb, orange juice, pomegranate juice, lemon juice, lime juice, and agave syrup in a container. Muddle raspberries, blackberries, simple syrup, and one of the sliced oranges in a bowl, and then strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve into container with the other ingredients. Let steep refrigerated overnight. Prior to serving, add in sliced orange and lemon, stir thoroughly, and transfer to a pitcher. Serve over ice, add a long splash of chilled brut Champagne, and garnish with an orange and lemon slice.

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