While its origins lie somewhere in Spain (or maybe Portugal), sangria has become a staple on Manitoba patios when the mercury starts to rise. Unless you're buying the pre-made stuff, no two sangria recipes are the same -- and as you'll see, even the sangria you can buy on Manitoba shelves could benefit from some custom modifications.
In fact, why don't I walk you through the steps for making some tasty sangria of your own? If it helps, imagine I sound exactly like Paula Deen, y'all.
The most important thing for making your own sangria is starting with the right ingredients. The base ingredient, of course, is wine -- usually red, although sangria made with a white wine base is completely within the rules (and typically darn enjoyable). If you go with a red, don't pick something ridiculously expensive or chock full of dry, tooth-staining tannin. Go light and fruity. An entry-level Spanish or Portuguese red wine will work as well as anything -- they did invent the stuff, after all.
Once you've got your wine picked out, some brandy is usually added to kick the sangria up a notch. It doesn't have to be expensive, but something like cognac brings beautiful orange peel flavours that will go a long way in ramping up your sangria; even Grand Marnier would do the trick.
The next big question is what type of chopped fruit to add to your sangria. I like to go with whatever looks/smells freshest at the grocery store. Having said that, your base fruit should/could include citrus fruit (lemon, orange, lime), strawberries, and (of course) grapes. If you like your sangria on the dry side, add tarter fruit like raspberries and lemon; if you prefer it a bit sweeter, include fresh strawberries and orange slices.
As you've been going along, you've been doing a bit of tasting, right? It's just like all the TV chefs tell you on The Food Network: taste as you go. You'll be able to tell whether you need more brandy (aw, heck, go for it), whether your sangria is sweet enough so far, and/or whether you need some more fruit floating around in there.
At this point, you could sweeten your sangria (if needed) with anything from sugar to honey to simple syrup. Don't add too much sweetener -- it's easier to add more later than it is to try and counterbalance too much. If you do end up making it too sweet or too boozy -- or if you just like some bubbles in your sangria -- add some club soda or sparkling water.
From here you're pretty much ready to go. Add some ice to your pitcher of sangria (not too much -- you don't want to water it down) and enjoy.
If you have killer sangria recipes you'd like to share, shoot me an email and I'll get them up on the Winnipeg Free Press website via my blog, The Grape Nut. If you're reading this online and have some tips or secret ingredients to share, leave 'em in the comments section.
AROMAS DE TURIS NV SANGRIA (Spain -- $9.98/1l, Liquor Marts and beyond)
You know, for the price this is pretty decent stuff -- as pre-made sangria goes it's not too sweet, leaving you the ability to adjust the flavours accordingly. It's only seven per cent alcohol, so it's also a good option for those looking for a less boozy beverage. I'd personally add some brandy, strawberries, citrus wedges and club soda before serving over ice.
SKINNYGIRL NV SANGRIA (Deerfield, Ill. -- $16.95, Liquor Marts and beyond)
This white sangria (made from white grapes) comes from Illinois, of all places. It's part of a line of Skinnygirl drinks made for women looking for lower-calorie alternatives to traditional cocktails. To me, this tastes sort of like a regular Muscat or Gewürztraminer table wine; it's tasty stuff, but I'd just as soon toss some peaches, lemon wedges and green grapes into one of the above tables wines and call it sangria.
VALDIVIESO NV SPARKLING WINE WITH NATURAL STRAWBERRY PULP (Chile -- around $11, private wine stores)
OK, this isn't sangria at all, but it's fizzy, fruit-infused and a bit sweet, so we're halfway there. The pure strawberry nectar flavours are most prominent, but some secondary green apple and lime notes come through, thanks to whatever the "top quality grapes" are in here. It's slightly sweeter than off-dry but the bubbles keep things from getting too syrupy. This is pretty darn good on its own, but tossing in some fresh strawberries and watermelon chunks couldn't hurt.