Well not a cocktail, Sangria is probably a staple of most social gatherings, and is served as a refreshment at quite a few restaurants; a wine punch, Sangria is perhaps one of the most famous punches, and is in many cases, a refreshing cooler.
Sangria in the form that we understand it originates from Spain, having spread throughout Europe, and finding its’ introduction into the United States in 1964 during the World’s Fair in New York, having been served by the Spanish. However, the origins of Sangria does not originate with the Spanish: as a punch, it is linked historically with the longstanding traditions surrounding the style of drink, and even prior to it with hippocras, a type of wine fortified with honey and herbs. As an aside note: hippocras is many times mistaken as mead, since mead is a honey wine, but the distinct difference is the base: in mead, the alcohol is fermented alcohol, while in hippocras, there is still a grape wine fortified with something else..
It is highly possible that Sangria has its’ origins in claret, a type of wine and, simultaneously, a punch. Punch, as Wondrich notes, is not a cheap drink, being expensive, to produce because of the use of the base liquor (Wondrich 54). Contrary to the expensive nature of punch, sangria at the other time is a cheap punch, seeing as the wine that is used is not necessarily something special. This puts it on the same level as the cheaper rum punch or gin punch that was made in the United States. However, seeing as it is made with a base of wine rather than spirits, it differs quite a bit. Claret, which was the English term for a French Bordeaux, was in many times, when passing through English hands, a fortified wine, given extra character through brandy (Ibid 55). As you can see, there is a similarity between Sangria, which is a red fortified with brandy, and that of Claret, which in many cases was sold fortified; later Claret would be served in a Claret Cup, which was Claret fortified with spirits and garnished with fruits, served over ice (Ibid 263). The cup, which was essentially a miniature punch, looks very identical to Sangria. Furthermore, the local terminology for red wine punches, in any variety was Sangria, so the transmission of Sangria extremely similar to that of a Claret Cup or Claret Punch sounds just like something which would be termed locally as Sangria.
The origins of punch and aromatised wines such as vermouth are all linked to transforming something that exhibited a modicum of quality into something new with bold flavors. Where as most aromatised wines are infused for a period of time longer tan a night, Sangria is usually only infused for a short period of time, usually the night before. However, Dale DeGroff, and others, recommend that you create this a la minute, through muddling the fruit to extract the oils from the citrus peel, and the juices from the pulp (DeGroff 206). To be honest, the flavor is less sophisticated if you let it sit and infuse, but the flavor is more vivid.
The variations which we see so often today, using other liqueurs, mixes of spirits, or styles of wine, is mostly a function of American novelty, and the creation of variances and spins off of specific traditional styles, in order to create something more appealing. Such variations include adding in triple sec, or another cordial, changing out the fruits, or sangrias that are “white wine” or “sparkling wine” versions. While not definitely a traditional approach, the fact that Sangria itself sees its’ historical past in punches and hippocras, gives off an aura of acceptance. If you want to switch out the wine, or create some version of your own, feel free to do so, and obviously change out the types of fruit or other helper ingredients to complement or accentuate the flavor of the wine; obviously this is the case even when choosing a specific red.
Yet, although most of the variations can be attributed to American cultural syncretism, there is variations on Sangria in the regions of Spain, including the southern variation zurra, which is oftentimes made with peaches. But in most cases, the wine used will be a red wine. The ideal wine for a Sangria is a Rioja, but you can’t go wrong with a claret from Bordeaux; in either case, just make sure not to use a particularly expensive wine, seeing as how the wine, especially in the a la minute version will be very different. Particularly good choices are wines with less of an oaken finish on the tongue, which contrasts in many cases to the bright citrus notes. You can hardly go wrong with a Sangria with fresh fruit and a decent wine, no matter what else is used to vary it (within reason of course).
1 bottle Spanish red (substitute for other types of red)
1 lemon, cut into wedges
1 orange, cut into wedges
4 ounces triple sec or curacao
2 ounces brandy
1 ounce simple syrup
Any other fruit to taste
In a pitcher, add the fruit and the brandy, syrup, and any other cordials. If made a la minute, muddle the fruit. Add the wine. Serve over ice in a chilled glass, a garnish of fruit, mint or other appropriate borage, and top with some seltzer.
DeGroff, Dale. 2008. The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks. New York: Clarkson Potter/Publishers.
Wondrich, David. 2010 . Punch: The Delights and Dangers of the Flowing Bowl. New York: Penguin Group.