We Southerners have a reputation for loving sweets. Dessert is often my favorite course. I even sprinkle sugar over my grits, eating this Southern breakfast staple like porridge.
Listening to some wine professionals, one might easily get the impression the love of sweet wines is exclusively a Southern thing, but the truth is, sweet wine sales are up nationwide.
One sweet wine sector experiencing a surge in growth is the bottled sangria of yesteryear. Authentic bottled sangrias are usually made from a combination of Spanish red wine, fruit juices and other flavorings.
Sangria has been around since antiquity. Its name is taken from the Latin word for “blood,” “sanguis” or “sanguine,” because most often red wine was used in making this drink.
The Romans who conquered Spain in 200 BC were notorious for adulterating their wines, adding various herbs and concoctions to render a wine palatable that would otherwise be undrinkable. The early Spaniards took up this practice, making their harsh red wines more palatable by adding fruit and fruit juices.
The practice of adulterating red wines with juices and fruit brandy crossed the Atlantic to America. Early colonists referred to such concoctions as “punch.”
Colonial recipes abound for something call “arrack punch.” Arrack is a distillate from the Far East that made its way to Great Britain courtesy of the Dutch East India Trading Company, and then to America. It was the most readily available potent liquor available to the colonists, who mixed a punch with sugar, water, arrack, red wine and citrus.
Sangria and punch faded in popularity over the years, but sangria made a comeback in 1964 when it was served at the Spanish Pavilion of the New York World’s Fair, generating such popularity that imported premixed bottled Spanish sangria became a staple on most wine shelves.
There is no single event explaining sangria’s current surge in popularity. Increased consumption by millennials, who are not averse to drinking sweet wines, may be a factor.
Climate change resulting in longer hot summers, which call for refreshing chilled sweet drinks, may also be contributing to sangria’s popularity.
There is no classic recipe for sangria. Older recipes tend to call for Spanish red wine from the Rioja, sugar, some portion of a more potent liquor like brandy or rum, citrus juice and citrus slices for garnishing the glass. Variations on these ingredients are endless.
My recipe includes a cheap bottle of generic red wine, vodka, triple sec, limeade, orange juice concentrate, fruit punch concentrate and citrus slices, all mixed together until perfectly tweaked. I always mix the day before and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to meld.
Just before serving, add a bottle of cheap, chilled sparkling wine to give the mixture a fizz, and adjust for sweetness if necessary by adding sugar or simple syrup. Serve over ice with a citrus slice garnish.
The above recipe is excellent for serving large crowds. It is delicious but deceivingly potent. Serve over ice in smaller glasses, instructing guests to avoid the urge to gulp.
If not up to mixing your own signature sangria, there are literally hundreds of different bottled brands on the market. Regrettably I was not up to trying them all, but I did select the following three random bottles available locally for review.
Yellow Tail Sangria from Australia. $6.99 at Winn Dixie. I liked this the least of the bottles tasted. It is very sweet at the beginning, with artificial lime flavor on the end. This would need a lot of adulteration to be palatable.
Madria Tradicional Sangria. $7.99 at Winn Dixie. One of the best-selling sangrias in America. However, there is nothing “Tradicional” about this Gallo product. Only marginally better than Yellow Tail.
Begonia Sangria. $9.75 at Tyson’s Fine Wine and Things in Anniston. Authentic Spanish sangria made with real Spanish red wine and real fruit essences. Delicious when poured direct from the bottle. Very low in alcohol, only 6 percent by volume. I would add a splash of orange liqueur and a splash of vodka.
Contact Pat Kettles at email@example.com.