Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sangria, for the Dog Days of Summer

Cool, refreshing sangria is perfect for late summer; "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid."  As in the Roman empire, this time of the year can be miserably hot in Chicago especially when combined with the area's high humidity. While throughout the summer I've served up a wide variety of refreshments (from berry cocktails to lemon drop martinis to fresh peach punch), now is the time for that famous Spanish drink of summer, sangria. 

As Kevin and I have traveled throughout the Mediterranean, up the coast of Portugal and through Mexico and Argentina, we have found this drink popular everywhere it is hot.  And after a hard morning of touring, nothing tastes quite as good on the tongue as a cold pitcher of sangria. (That's me in 2002 in Barcelona at right.)   Be warned however, that while it may taste cold and fruity, a long lunch and a full pitcher of sangria can set you up for a nap, rather than resumed touring, which is of course the Spanish way to spend a hot afternoon!

I make numerous variations of this classic wine punch, mostly depending on what ingredients I have on hand.  Today's sangria is the classic red wine with apples, lemons, oranges and nectarines.  The basic recipe is always the same.  Cut up your fruits and place into a pitcher.  Sprinkle just a little sugar on the fruits to help them release their juices, letting them sit for about 30 minutes.  Then add a half cup of brandy and select a bottle of inexpensive wine, preferrably one that is just a little on the fruity side.  Add the bottle to your pitcher, stir, cover and refrigerate overnight.  I know some people add fruit juice to the mix, but if your fruit is juicy I don't think this is necessary.  I prefer my sangria not to be too sweet.  Now you may think that this will be too strong, but remember that at serving time you will be adding ice and sparkling water.  Again I use whatever is on hand, which could be tonic water, sparkling water, or even a can of Sprite

If you are going to consume the entire pitcher at one sitting, then add the ice and sparkling water to the pitcher just prior to serving.  If not, add the ice and sparkling water to top each glass and stir.  Finally, a wooden spoon is traditionally placed in the pitcher and is used to control the amount of fruit and ice deposited in one's glass. 

If you are having a large group, make a punch bowl full.  It will look delicious, you can use a ring of frozen fruit with juice to keep it cold, and it will be a huge hit with your guests.  The last time I  did this I came upon my guests tipping the punch bowl on its side and attempting to squeeze the lasts drops of sangria from the fruit.  Thankfully I had a refill standing by!

Kevin's parents enjoying 
sangria and bruschetta.

If you prefer something lighter, use a bottle of white or rose' wine.  I often pair these wines with peaches, lemons, limes and cherries and have even made a nice white sangria with cucumber and basil (just put in the entire sprig at serving time as the flavor and scent are strong, and you don't want loose leaves floating around in the glasses.)  Really the possibilities are endless and I  encourage you to be creative!  Salud!

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