Last September, on a quick tour of Barcelona and the Costa Brava in Spain, we had our fill of sangria every time we ate tapas. Shrimp, patatas bravas, Iberian ham and hunks of bread went nicely with the essential glass of fruit and wine.
We noticed that most everyone else sipping on the blood-red, fruit-laden wine drink were tourists, too. The locals were enjoying mixed drinks and beer, it seemed.
That didn't stop us. Americans love sangria, here and abroad, even if the Spanish consider it a cheap party drink whose main purpose is to lubricate a crowd. But sangria doesn't have to be made with sketchy wine, and its adaptability to all sorts of fruits makes it an every-season drink. Citrus in winter? We've got that. Peaches and plums in the summer? Absolutely. Berries in the spring? Check. And anymore, we can get any fruit we want year-round.
Sangria seems perfectly suited to Florida. When the weather gets steamy, like right now, an ice-cold glass of sangria with luscious fruit bobbing among the ice cubes is refreshing relief.
There are plenty of spots around Tampa Bay to order a pitcher of sangria, among them Ceviche, the Columbia and Red Mesa, but you can also make a batch at home to serve at your next party. Fourth of July, maybe? Add blueberries and strawberries to your white wine sangria for a patriotic punch.
The trick with making sangria is to chill it for at least 24 hours before serving. This allows the fruit juices to marry with the wine and liqueurs. If you're in a real rush, make it in the morning to serve in the evening. Anything less and you won't get the full flavor of the drink.
If the recipe calls for carbonated soda, add that right before serving to preserve the fizz.
When selecting a wine for sangria, you should subscribe to the same advice as you would for cooking with wine. Don't use something you wouldn't drink by itself. That said, don't go overboard and buy a $25 bottle of wine that you will be diluting with fruit juices, other spirits and ice.
You should be able to find a bottle for $10 or less that will suffice.
For white sangrias, use pinot grigio, moscato, albarino or even a Riesling, which comes from Germany. All of these wines bring proper acidity to play off the sweetness of the fruit. For red sangria, consider rioja from Spain or syrah, merlot or pinot noir. You might even experiment with a sparkling wine, though it will lose its fizz during the chilling period.
Sangria is ultimately a very forgiving drink. It works well with most fruits, though stay away from bananas, which tend to disintegrate and make the drink muddy. As we head into the stone-fruit season, plums, nectarines and peaches get along just fine with either red or white wine. Make sure you remove the pits.
And don't forget sturdy apple slices. They keep their shape while soaking up lots of flavors. It's amazing that they still snap after soaking in wine for hours.
No matter that sangria doesn't get the proper reverence in its birthplace. We'll lift a glass of fruit goodness to toast just about anything, especially a cocktail's ability to rejuvenate a soul during a steamy Florida summer.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.