What’s that you say? You barely pulled out the seersucker, and I want you to start thinking about gingerbread and fruitcake? I do, actually, I do!
Alright, we’ll save Christmas for the end of the article and concentrate on a different kind of magic: sangria. After all, it’s summer, and there is really nothing quite like this tiny wine fiesta in a glass to get a party started.
Summer beverages, especially those that contain alcohol, delight the palate with seasonal freshness and help hydrate the body. This centuries-old wine punch perfectly fills the bill. Sangria finds its origins in Spain, and historians speculate it was created as a watered-down hydration beverage after the Romans invaded and planted vineyards here. Traditional Sangria is a combination of wine (usually claret), fruit, and brandy that was often served in place of water because the alcohol had an antibacterial effect during times when sanitation made the business of drinking water a sketchy undertaking.
Today, Sangria can be found in as many forms as there are creative minds to conjure up new flavor combinations, and it has become a seasonal staple that transcends its Spanish beginnings. What follows are some basic instructions on how to create sangria, as well as some tried and tested favorites if you’d rather just get to sippin.’
Creating your own sangria is like creating perfume: it begins with a base note, then a provocative middle note, and ends with a top olfactory note. The foundation of sangria, the wine, is the base note. A deep rich red wine makes a formal and definitive statement. A crisp sauvignon blanc feels more youthful and fresh. Something with bubbles, like a cava or gragnano, tends to be the life of the party. Experiment over the summer and find your perfect spirit wine.
Middle notes are those that add intrigue. In sangria, those are generally the fruits and additional alcohol added to the punch. Apples and oranges add crispness. Berries add depth. Savory additions, like chiles or bourbon, take your elixir down a less traveled, but supremely provocative path. Add small amounts of these items until you get the flavor just right. A little goes a long way.
Top notes are the lightest notes in your sangria, but ironically, often represent the first impression of the drink. As you drink, the other flavors begin to come through and the top notes fade, but they also contribute to the overall personality of the punch. Cinnamon, vanilla, basil, lavender, and rosemary are used sparingly in the beverage, often as garnish, so their aroma and appearance take center stage, but not their flavor.
Sangria should match summer: an easy, refreshing respite from the pomp and circumstance of the rest of the year. If you don’t have the inclination to engage in your own alchemistic wizardry, try the favorites listed here. For all the recipes, combine the ingredients, gently stir, and serve over ice. You won’t have leftovers, but if you do, strain the sangria into ice cube trays and freeze. The frozen cubes can be added back to any new batch of sangria, or popped into a glass and served with wine.
By far the most recognized, traditional red sangria can be dressed up or down. Try adding a few drops of chile extract to give it some kick or substitute the sherry for a smoky mescal. If you’re inclined to use only berries in the sangria, strain out the remainder, and make jam.
1 bottle fruit-forward red wine, such as claret or Zinfandel
juice from 2 limes
¾ cup orange juice
1 cup assorted summer fruit (cherries, berries, apples, pineapple, etc.)
1/3 cup simple syrup
½ cup sherry (or my favorite: coconut rum)
Strawberry Lemon Sangria
This recipe produces a beautiful pink, tart and tangy sangria.
1 bottle crisp rose
6 strawberries, sliced
½ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup simple syrup
Garnish: strawberries and lemon slice.
Rosemary Lavender Sangria
Since this sangria is made with vinho verde wine, make it just before you serve it so the effervescence does not dissipate. This sangria has the complexity of a cocktail and is not overly sweet.
1 bottle vihno verde
1 ½ cups blackberries (about 25)
3/4 tsp vanilla paste (or vanilla extract)
¾ tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 dropper of lavender extract
3 Tbsp. simple syrup.
Garnish: lavender sprig and/or rosemary sprig
Cucumber Basil Sangria
This light sangria is reminiscent of a day at the spa, and the elderflower liquor gives it a surprising and unexpected twist. Use Cava as a substitute if you want something sparkly, or simply add a bit of club soda before serving.
1 bottle white wine, like sauvignon blanc
1/3 cup St. Germain elderflower liquor
1 cup chopped, fresh pineapple
1 cup fresh blackberries
2 Tbsp. chopped basil
1 cup cucumber
Garnish: basil sprig
My personal favorite, this one is inspired by a Cuban restaurant in Miami and is served best blended like a frozen drink in a glass with a sugar-dipped rim but serve it any way you like. This recipe is by the glass, but feel free to triple it if you want to use the entire bottle.
1 cup ice
1 cup crisp rose
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp rose extract
2 Tbsp. Simple syrup
place all the ingredients in the blender and blend to a slushy.
Garnish: rose petals
With summer in the bag (or the glass), it’s time to settle into the real work. Surely, you didn’t think I’d forgotten about Christmas? In addition to making sure your dried fruit is quietly macerating in rum for all those Jamaican black cakes you’ll be churning out for the holidays, it’s time to make the eggnog.
If you’ve never tasted perfection, you’ll just have to trust me on this; this drink is pretty perfect. Perfection takes time, however, and truly amazing fermented eggnog is not to be categorized with that gloppy, chemical tasting, over-sweet bromidic liquid available for purchase at the Piggly Wiggly on November 1 of each year. Leave that dime-store imitation to the common folk. In order to truly create a holiday worth Aunt Sandy’s good china, one must plan one’s eggnog, and then sequester it away for at least 6 months until it becomes an elixir of magical form and flavor.
Gasp! Isn’t mixing eggs and milk and letting them go steady for months in the back of your refrigerator going to land the family to the emergency room? It won’t. In fact, because I always reserve 1 cup of the prior year’s eggnog for our new batch, our eggnog goes back roughly 10 years.
Aged eggnog is easy, relatively quick to make, and worth every moment of your time. And speaking of your time, don’t waste it with a small batch. This will go so quickly you may have to punch ration cards just to make sure it lasts through New Year’s. This recipe makes just about a gallon. The hardest part of the process is trying not to drink it before its time.
12 large egg yolks (use pasteurized eggs, they are safer and can be found next to the regular eggs at the grocery)
1 pound white sugar
1 pint half and half
1 pint heavy cream
1 pint whole milk
1 cup dark rum
1 cup Armagnac
1 cup bourbon
1 Tbsp. vanilla
2 tsp grated nutmeg
¼ tsp sea salt (do not used iodized)
In a large bowl, beat the yolks and the sugar for at least 7 minutes until it is very light in color, rich, and comes down from the beaters in ribbons. In a separate bowl, combine the various kinds of milks, then add the alcohol, the vanilla, the nutmeg, and the salt, and gently stir it into the eggs until fully blended.
Store in glass jars and refrigerate for a minimum of two weeks and as long as you like. You do not need to stir or shake the mixture. Serve in small glasses, and only to the relatives, you like.