Sangria can be a memorable drink, but sometimes not in a good way. It's the kind of drink that can conjure up the hazy image of a summer afternoon with lots of laughs for reasons you can't remember and a bad headache to follow, which you can.
But it doesn't have to be that way. The drink, generally made of wine, a liqueur such as triple sec, brandy and fruit, can be just as delicious and fun as you remember. The key to making good sangria is to nix the added sugar -- sometimes enough to give you a hangover even without the liquor -- and to treat the drink with respect when inbibing. It's a lot more potent than it tastes. Best to drink like the adult you are. A glass or two is plenty, especially enjoyable with a light meal of, say, grilled shrimp and great summer produce.
Really, what could be better than chilled wine and beautiful summer fruit on a hot day?
"It's a light, refreshing outdoorsy kind of drink, a good patio drink," says Caitlyn Boyd, manager of the Med in downtown Boulder.
The restaurant's patio is such a good spot for tossing back a sangria that the restaurant makes it in 8 gallon batches to have plenty at the ready. Its recipe veers from the traditional. Boyd says the restaurant's red sangria is made with red port, sherry, red wine, strawberry puree, blood orange puree, passion fruit puree and garnished with lime and orange slices. The white sangria is made with white wine, triple sec, peach puree, apple puree and pear puree and garnished with lemon and orange slices.
At Café Aion on the Hill in Boulder, the standard house sangria is made with tempranillo, a Spanish red wine.
"That one took us a while to get the recipe just right," says Dakota Soifer, owner and chef.
To the wine, the restaurant adds peach and apple juice, orange and lemon quarters, crème de cassis, Grand Marnier, cinnamon, crushed bay leaf and a Fresno pepper.
"To us, it's really nice and well-balanced," Soifer says.
The red sangria is available and popular year-round, although more popular in the summer. But Soifer doesn't stop there. As the weather has warmed, he's been offering a "sangria del dia," as well, changing it up, according to what's in season.
In the late spring and early summer, that meant featuring rhubarb from Cure Organic Farm. For that, Soifer used white wine, a bit of simple syrup, silver rum, lemon and lime juice and fresh oranges. He simmered the rhubarb with a little sugar in wine until it became tender and added that to the cold wine. Soifer says he was a little surprised at how popular the drink was. Now, he is featuring a white sangria with cherries macerated in vodka and triple sec, as well as some house-made limoncello. Soifer says rose makes a lovely sangria, in which he plans to use strawberries and perhaps blackberries.
With the lovely summer fruit, Soifer says it's easy to figure out what liqueurs and liquors are harmonious. Orange-flavored triple sec or Grand Marnier and currant-based crème de cassis are a great way to add fruity sweetness, while rum, either silver or gold, goes particularly well with fruit. Infusing the liquor with fruit can add a double fruity punch.
All the stone fruits have a place in sangria. One way to figure out what goes with what is to think of the typical descriptors for wine. Light reds are often said to have notes or cherry, blackberry and plum. White wines are described as having hints of peach, melon (don't forget Rocky Ford cantaloupe soon coming into season) and tropical fruit.
Soifer says infusions and sangria are just one more way to pay tribute to the great flavors of summer.
"Whether you put it in alcohol or jelly, it's all along the same lines," he says.