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Perfect Sangria – The Formula to Success

Sangria. It’s an al fresco dining fav and with the weather warming up it’s time to learn the formula for making a perfect sangria. Formula? Yes. Sangria is a far more complex cocktail than just fruit tossed into plonk — but once you know the secret of a good sangria recipe you’ll be slinging pitchers of sangria that have your friends singing your praises for eternity.

Sangria comes from the Iberian Peninsula and has five categories of ingredients. Like any recipe, once you understand what you need, and the proper proportions, you can make it any way you like. There are sweet, savory, spicy and even sparkling sangrias. There are sangrias that are tried and true and there are sangrias that haven’t been made yet. After a few practice rounds at basic Sangria you’ll learn where your tastes lie and then you can unleash your creativity and go wild. Just always remember the basics for perfect sangria and you’re set.

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The Five Parts Of A Perfect Sangria

Sangria requires five things in order to work: wine, sugar, fruit, liquor, juice. See? It’s not just fruit and wine. This is why many people say, “I made a pitcher of sangria but it didn’t taste like sangria!” You have to include all of these components in order to get the flavor and body right. We’ll go through each part and offer you ideas for what qualifies as each hopefully opening you up to possibilities you never imagined.

 

1. Wine

Sangria requires wine. The first mistake people make is using a bottle of plonk, or bad wine. This is the wine people don’t like to drink on their own and so it is assumed that if they throw some fruit in it it will be better. But, let’s break that down for a second: if you wouldn’t drink it alone is throwing stuff in it really going to improve it much? Sure, fruit is great, but not that great.

The key to selecting wine for sangria is to select a wine that you would drink on its own. The body doesn’t matter much in your selection but it should be fruity (rather than smoky, leathery) and acidic. Make sure it is NOT tannic (astringent). It just doesn’t work in sangria.

The great thing about sangria is that you don’t even have to use red wine. Ignore the purists! You can use any color and even sparkling wine as long as you stick to the basic rule: fruit + acid.

2. Sugar

Make no mistake: you need to sweeten your sangria! We’re using the term sugar lightly, as we’ll get into in a bit. You may choose a sweet wine and some fruit is sweet but if you go with citrus or tart berries you’ll notice that something is lacking. Even with sweet fruit sugar, or sweetener, is a must.

There are a few tricks to the type of sugar you use in your sangria.

  • If you use white sugar or another type of granulated sugar, make it into a simple syrup first so that there is no grit in your drink (sugar doesn’t dissolve well in cold liquids).
  • DO NOT use artificial sweetener which can be too sweet or impart a bitterness that will ruin your sangria.
  • Be creative!

How can you be creative when it comes to sugar? Consider something that would add sweetness to your sangria but that you’d never picture in sangria. Maple syrup is an awesome sweetener, corn syrup also works. And don’t forget flavored molasses!

3. Fruit

IMG_2093If you’re going to mix a pitcher of perfect sangria it has to have fruit. Very few fruits are off the table when it comes to sangria but avoid banana which will completely overpower your sangria and also loan it a strange texture. Here are some fruity tips:

  • Berries and grapes can be washed and tossed in. Consider cutting the top off of strawberries before putting them in the mix and also cutting them in half.
  • Citrus, apples, melon and tropical fruits work really well in sangria. If you want to make a perfect sangria you should peel and chop everything except grapes and berries.
  • Melon and citrus work really well in white sangria.
  • Apples, especially tart ones, are awesome in red sangria.
  • If you’re making a sparkling white sangria melon or peaches are incredible but keeping it simple with berries also works.
  • The lighter the wine the less crazy you should go with the fruit because you don’t want to overpower your wine — you want to complement it!

4. Liquor

IMG_2081Another reason why some sangrias fall flat? They are missing the booze. Perfect sangria always includes the addition of liquor, usually brandy. A key mistake made in mixing up sangria is that because it is made with wine and brandy is wine it’s not necessary. People also think that there is enough sugar already so the addition of liquor will tilt the scales too much toward sweet but believe us — this is a key to your perfect sangria. A light rum, brandy, or flavored liqueur work best.

 

5. Juice

At this point you’re wondering if we’re pulling your leg but believe it or not, true sangria does have this many ingredients. Juice keeps up the complexity and balance. Fruit is less sweet than people imagine often having tartness so it’s important to add other flavors and types of flavors.

Don’t go crazy with the juice and put in something that doesn’t mesh — if you’ve used citrus as your fruit, stick to citrus. When possible, use REAL juice — freshly squeezed is best. Stay away from anything too artificial. What types of juice work? Pineapple, pomegranate, cranberry, orange, lemon… just make sure it complements your fruit.

 

Play Time!

Now that you’ve got the five basics down it’s time to think about whether or not you want to add an extra. It’s really best to get one solid recipe down before creating your own but while you’re letting your brain think about what you want, here are some things to consider.

 

Bubbles

If you are using still wine but love a little effervescence there’s nothing wrong with using seltzer to add bubbles. Just stay far away from tonic — it’s an acquired taste and one that doesn’t work with most of the ingredients in a perfect sangria. You can also use a clear soda. Consider Fresca over lemon-lime soda — the grapefruit soda is far more subtle.

Garni

A gorgeous drink deserves an accessory so make sure to add a garnish. Your imagination is the limit but here are some of our favorites:

  • Cinnamon or candy sticks as stirrers
  • Ice Cubes with fruit frozen into them
  • Sliced strawberry on the rim of the glass
  • Colored sugar or a colored salt/sugar mix
  • A piece of maple candy

Your Recipe For Perfect Sangria

Now that you’ve got all the parts how do you put them together? The basics are below and should be your starting point but once you’ve made and tasted it feel free to play with the amounts — maybe you want to taste the wine more, or maybe you’re really loving the liquor — lessen and add to bring out the combination of flavors you like best. You should always have one basic pitcher at a party because pretty much everyone loves sangria. Offer something they know and love and tempt them with your creation.

You’ll need a pitcher and a long spoon or other stirring utensil that is taller than the pitcher so that you can stir your perfect sangria concoction. To start, fill the pitcher to a little more than the halfway point with ice cubes.

Ingredient Amount
Fruit 1-2 Cups
Wine 1 Bottle
Triple Sec1 ¼ – ½ cup
Light Ru ¼ – ½ cup
Juice ¼ – ½ cup
STIR
Mixer2 ¼ – 2 cup
Sugar ⅛ – ¼ cup

[1] For our recipe we use triple sec and light rum and suggest you start there, too. Eventually just get to around ½-1 cup liquor. [2] optional

Stir and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. When ready to serve pour over half a glass of ice and don’t forget to garnish!

Some Expert Tips And Tricks

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  • If you are using sparkling wine or adding anything carbonated, make the sangria without these ingredients and add before serving so your perfect sangria doesn’t fall flat. Nothing could be worse than that!
  • If you are using a simple syrup remember that this will increase the amount of liquid but doesn’t mean you should cut other liquids.
  • Avoid frozen fruit — fresh is best!
  • If you want the sexiest ice cubes on the block boil water, allow it to cool and then pour it into ice cube trays — this makes perfectly clear ice cubes.

Good luck with your adventures in sangria and please let us know if you try our recipe and, of course, feel free to share your own creative takes on sangria!

Nancy Koziol

Nancy Koziol is a wine writer specializing in wine news, culture, politics, and emerging regions. She has traveled throughout various wine regions and constantly strives to deepen her understanding and appreciation of the holistic experience of wine, from seed to glass. Nancy writes for a variety of wine publications spanning everything from how to make amazing Sangria to understanding the ecological impact of winemaking. She lives in Vermont where she is developing an appreciation for hybrid grapes - something she never thought would happen - and obsessing over orange wines.

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