Spanish sangria– it’s one of Spain’s most popular yet misunderstood drinks. Tourists love it, locals barely drink it. Sangria is a mixed alcoholic drink from Spain. The fine-wine experts 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 it is not only pure party material but also has a rich history of its own and enough variation to please just about any palate.
Sangria for wine lovers
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.
As much as people love this version of wine they don’t really know much about it. For example, what is in sangria or what is the history behind this famous drink and how did this drink gain its popularity in the modern world.
History of Sangria
The history of Sangria is difficult to pinpoint exactly. But, it’s actually pretty straightforward. Over 2,000 years ago, the Romans made their way across the Iberian Peninsula and planted vineyards along the way. As the water at that time was unsafe for drinking, it was common to fortify it with alcohol to kill off any bacteria.
The first sangrias were likely heavily watered-down mixes of wine, water, herbs, and spices. The Romans would add anything to kill off the bacteria in the water and to disguise the terrible taste of the table wine. The name of the drink dates to the 1700s from the Spanish word sangre, or blood, and refers to its dark color.
Most food historians agree that Spaniards introduced some version of sangria to the Americas in the early 1800s. Official accounts place the US introduction to this drink at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, when the Pavilion of Spain served it to visitors from the Taberna Madrid kiosk. Since then, Americans have been quick to embrace the Spanish cocktail, and in recent years many bars have started to serve a signature sangria to their guests.
What is in Sangria?
The color of sangria depends on the wine. Red sangria is made with red wine and white sangria with white wine.
There are several regional variations of sangria, so ingredients vary. In addition to wine, traditional sangria may contain:
- Fruit juice, typically such as orange juice
- Sweeteners such as simple syrup, agave nectar or sugar
- Sparkling water
- Fruit, such as sliced oranges, and chopped pineapple, peaches, nectarines, apples, or pears
- Flavored liqueurs, fruit schnapps, brandy, or cognac.
How to make Sangria
There are almost as many sangria recipes as there are bars in Spain. The EU defines this fruity drink – which can only come from Spain or Portugal, as:
“a drink obtained from wine, aromatized with the addition of natural citrus-fruit extracts or essences, with or without the juice of such fruit and with the possible addition of spices, sweetened and with CO2 added, having an acquired alcoholic strength by volume of less than 12 % vol”
That’s just a fancy way of saying ‘wine with fruit and spices, which is the basis of all Sangrias that you’ll meet around Spain. The wine will generally be a good rioja and the fruit can be anything – pineapple, melon, apple, pear, peach – and there will almost always be added orange juice, sugar, and sometimes sweet spices such as cinnamon.
Often places will also add in a spirit such as brandy to make up for the lost alcohol from adding the orange juice. Finally, many will round it off with lemonade or soda water to give it a refreshing fizz. In other words, take some wine and some orange juice and then do what you like with it!
In southern Spain, you might find Zurracapote (often shortened to Zurra), which is a very similar drink to Sangria. Rather than adding any orange juice, the red wine is mixed with whole fruits such as oranges, peaches, nectarines, sugar, and cinnamon, and left to steep for several days.
A newer variation called Sangria Blanco is, as the name suggests, a white sangria. Made with a nice dry white wine, Sangria Blanco is usually less sweet but certainly no less enjoyable.
Finally, you might find this drink made with Cava, which is a sparkling variant of the national drink that has a refreshing bubbly taste.
History Of Sangria
The history of sangria is actually pretty straightforward. Over 2,000 years ago, the Romans made their way across the Iberian Peninsula and planted vineyards along the way. As the water at that time was unsafe for drinking. It was common to fortify it with alcohol to kill off any bacteria.
The first sangrias were likely heavily watered-down mixes of wine, water, herbs, and spices. The name of the drink comes from the Spanish word sangre (which itself comes from the Latin sanguis), or blood, and refers to its dark color.
Most food historians agree that Spaniards introduced some version of sangria to the Americas in the early 1800s. Official accounts place the US introduction to sangria at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, when the Pavilion of Spain served it to visitors from the Taberna Madrid kiosk. Since then, Americans have been quick to embrace the Spanish cocktail, and in recent years many bars have started to serve a signature sangria to their guests.
Traditional Spanish Sangria recipe
- Red wine,
- citrus fruits(apple, lemon,etc),
- cinnamon stick,
- nectarine, and
Step 1: Make a simple syrup. I like to use a 1:1 ratio for mine. Let it cool while you prepare the rest of the mixture.
Step 2: Take all your citrus fruits and peel the rind. Then juice the fruits.
Step 3: Now you just combine everything! Put your wine into a big pitcher (or pot). Add all of the citrus juice, peeled rinds, and simple syrup.
Step 4: Now give it a stir and add your spices (I use a cinnamon stick). Add any additional fruit, brandy, or alcohol (if using). Add the soda (if using) right before drinking.
Step 5: Voila! A traditional Spanish sangria to enjoy with your favorite foods.
Sangria in today´s Spain
The easiest way to think of modern-day sangria is as a wine punch, often involving fruit and other alcohols. But it’s important to note that there’s no standard recipe here in Spain. As a result, the complex and delicious sangria you might be expecting could likely lead to disappointment.
While cocktail culture has flourished in the US and other countries in recent decades, the Spanish cocktail scene still lags behind. And although Madrid has some great cocktail joints nowadays, this wasn’t always the case. So while every bar and restaurant in the US is serving up specialties like white wine passionfruit mango sangria or spiced sparkling strawberry sangria, Spain is still stuck in a rut.
Establishments know that tourists expect sangria, so you’d better bet they’ll serve something by that name. But more often than not, you’re getting overcharged for a much cheaper (and very popular) Spanish drink called tinto de verano.
Why don’t many Spanish bars offer real sangria?
There are two main reasons. The first is that good sangria needs time to let the fruit macerate so that the wine can soak up all the delicious flavors. In Spain’s fast-paced bar culture, this isn’t realistic.
The second reason is the fact that it simply isn’t in demand among locals—at least when they go out. If anything, it is enjoyed at home for weekend barbecues and other events with friends and family. Much like alcoholic punch common in English-speaking countries, it is more of a party drink in Spain and not something you would really order out at a bar.
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