How to Make Sangria

SangriaLong before I moved to Portland, I was known for my sangria recipe. I had long suspected that I was invited to many parties just because they knew I would bring a batch of it.

One year my friend Patrick invited me to his birthday party in Healdsburg, California. It was going to be outdoors, looked like it was going to be a hot day, and I got a last minute phone call saying, “Oh, could you bring a batch of your sangria?”

Judging by the amount of people invited, I figured I would need two gallons of the stuff, but the problem is, sangria sneaks up on people. I didn’t want it to turn into a party of wild abandon, so decided to pre-portion equal amounts for each person. I spent an entire afternoon going for store to store looking for those plastic sports bottles that were so popular in those days – the kind with the built-in straws – classy! Twenty-two bottles later, I was ready to begin.

Patrick’s birthday parties were hardly legendary. Mostly staid affairs, we’d sit around a picnic table in the back yard, being incredibly polite. He had a varied group of friends, and since some were in their 80’s and some were in their pre-teens, it was necessary to be rather… controlled.

Then came the year I walked in with those two milk crates of sangria, and all hell broke loose.

First of all, Patrick had failed to tell me, that some of the people invited couldn’t make it, so I had brought way too much. Second, it was a hot September day in the vineyards, and being an outdoor party, the sangria flowed like water. I guarded those bottles like an alcoholic bartender, but every time I turned my back, another would go missing. This was one of those parties that would be remembered, the kind some self-titled food writer would reminisce about 20 years later.

It started slowly; innocently. It was a lovely day, sitting in the shade of the veranda. One of the guests was a well-known flamenco guitar player, another a singer, and what goes better with a little Spanish music than sangria? I knew there might be trouble when it seemed like everyone was starting to tap their feet under the table. This type of thing just didn’t happen at Patrick’s parties. Soon, Jamie was singing, someone else was teaching palmas, and as the music heated up, his normally conservative and elderly Japanese mother started showing someone how to do the jitterbug… to flamenco. Over the evening the music inexplicably changed from flamenco to old Blood, Sweat and Tears songs, which we all sang at the top of our voices. If it weren’t for Patrick’s status in the community, I’m sure the neighbors would have called the police.

More happened that night, but it’s all rather foggy in my mind. I have quite a few slightly blurry pictures, but they don’t make a lot of sense to me.

The point is, sangria can be dangerous; treat it like a bomb. Don’t make it for anyone you might regret doing anything with later. Even more importantly, don’t allow cameras.

Although many in Spain would claim that sangria is just a tourist drink, it is native to Iberia, which includes Spain, and Portugal. It normally consists of a combination of red wine, fruit, sugar, and spirits. If you stick to those basic ingredients, there isn’t a “wrong” way to mix up a batch. If it tastes good, that’s all that matters.

If you let the longer sangria sit for a while before drinking, it will become smooth and mellow. A full day is best, but if that’s impossible, give it a minimum of two hours to meld. Use large, heavy, juicy oranges and lemons for the best flavor. Doubling or tripling the recipe is fine.

My old sangria recipe was lost in a move, but this one adapted from Cooks Illustrated is excellent – though minus the cognac I used to add. I’ve made a few changes to suit my palate.

  • 2 large oranges, one sliced, one juiced
  • 1 large lemon, sliced
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup Triple Sec +-
  • ¼ cup brandy
  • 1 bottle inexpensive fruity red wine. I generally go with a Spanish red, such as a Tempranilllo
  • Club soda
  1. Add sliced orange and lemon and sugar to large pitcher; mash gently with wooden spoon until fruit releases some juice, but is not totally crushed, and sugar dissolves. If you crush it too much, your sangria will taste pithy.
  2. Stir in orange juice, Triple Sec, and wine; refrigerate for at least 2, and up to 36, hours.
  3. Before serving, add 6 to 8 ice cubes and stir briskly, and add a splash of club soda to give a bit of effervescence. Serve immediately.

A couple of things to keep in mind. As I mentioned, flavors will meld over time, so adjust the sugar just before serving. Also, be careful to taste as you are adding the triple sec as that can also over-sweeten.

Anya von Bremzen wrote one of my most used cookbooks, The New Spanish Table. She includes three sangria recipes, including this one:

Rose-Raspberry Sangria

  • 2 cups raspberries
  • 1 bottle inexpensive Spanish Rosé wine
  • ½ cup triple sec
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 3/4 cup POM pomegranate juice
  • 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or more if needed
  • 3 tablespoons simple syrup (or to taste)
  • 1 ½ cups diced strawberries and think-skinned lemons (diced with their peels)
  • Ice cubes.
  1. Place the raspberries in a blender and pulse to purée. Place a fine-mesh sieve over a medium-size pitcher and pour into the sieve, straining to remove the seeds.
  2. Add the wine, triple sec, orange juice, POM, lemon juice, simple syrup and fruit to the pitcher and mix together. Refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours. When ready to serve, add the ice, taste, and add more lemon juice or syrup, as necessary.

This is a pretty amazing recipe, the dry pomegranate balanced against the other ingredients.

Note: there may be more grammatical errors than usual in this post. My editor decided to make up a batch herself, and I haven’t heard from her since – apologies in advance.

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. garden girl says

    Mmm… wouldn’t some sangria be great this evening? The story reminds me of my first experience with sweetened wine (without the implied romping). I hope no one minds this digression. I was 9 or 10 years old and it was Christmas Dinner at my grandparents’ home. It was quite a big deal to sit with the “grown ups” and I was placed between two older male cousins, 15-16 years old. A steaming bowl of warm wine, gluhwein or glogg depending on who in the family made it, was brought out and even I, as the youngest, was allowed a glass punch cup at my place. It was sweet and warm and slightly spiced – so delicious! It was better than coke or hot chocolate. Before I knew it, my cup was empty and one of my cousins kindly offered to refill it. Well, as dinner proceeded one of my cousins would engage me in conversation, while the other replenished my cup. Needless to say, I became tipsy quickly and both older cousins were excused from the table in disgrace. I still think an occasional gluhwein or glogg is lovely at Christmas, but I learned to keep an eye on my glass – a lesson learned early that protected me when I hit college.

  2. eatingfortwo says

    We make that Cook’s Illustrated Sangria recipe almost weekly at our house. It’s deadly enough without the brandy – I would be scared to try your version!

  3. Patrick de la Sangria says

    I don’t know how you came up with this work of pure fiction…
    Incidentally, you forgot to mention that some of the bottles (the ones for you, me and a couple of others) were “special”, as in double strength. Man, that WAS a great party. I don’t think your pictures are blurry. I think we probably actually looked like that by the time you took them. Great. Now I’m going to be thinking about Sangria all afternoon and yearning for those simpler, more alcoholic times…

    (Mom says hi.)

  4. lolo says

    Flamenco in the vineyard? …must have been Jaime del Rio and Mark Taylor. OLE, Food Dude — gracias por la receta!

  5. kelly says

    OK, this sounds foolish but one of the best Sangria’s I had was at a party where they dropped in red hots. (yes, the candy) the little kick of cinnamon was wonderful…..or maybe I was just drunk.

  6. Tami says

    I made a batch of Sangria last week to help beat the heat. It was perfect! Cool and refreshing going down and before long we were buzzed enough that we didn’t care it was 108 outside.

  7. Kimberly says

    I absolutely love Sangria and everyone always has their own twist on this lovely drink. I have made Sangria exactly like your recipe, also made it with Sake (this is so good with a light white wine, pinot grigio) and my friend makes a red Sangria with Grand Marnier and Cognac (this is so good, but boy it packs the punch!!)
    Thanks for sharing this great story it has inspired me to make some this weekend.

  8. Amy says

    I have migrated to the less deadly Mexican Sangria from the Eric Felten of the Wall Street Journal. Also easier to make when it is hot!

    Mexican Sangria

    (Courtesy of Susana Manterola)

    Half a bottle of good Spanish red wine
    Juice of 3 limes
    The peel of one lime, grated
    2 tbsp sugar

    Combine in a pitcher with a dozen ice cubes, and let sit until all the ice is melted.

    “What of Ms. Manterola’s Mexican Sangria recipe (which is also common to the West Indies)? I have to admit I was leery. Oranges, peaches, apples, even lemons — all those fruits I could imagine harmonizing with the grape. But for whatever reason, the thought of lime juice in wine made my mouth reflexively pucker. I tried it anyway, and my instincts proved decidedly wrong. Though I prefer the sort of Sangria made by Taberna del Alabardero and Jan Boyer’s mother, the simple wine, lime and sugar version from Mexico is a worthy alternative.”

  9. Pam says

    I can attest that this is a GREAT recipe. Bottoms up!

    (And how about re-posting that fabulous cucumber cocktail recipe)?

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