Strawberry Sangria: A cheerful drink in trying times

Despite its ominous name, meaning “bleeding” in Spanish, the Iberian wine punch “Sangría” is a cheery, even gentle, drink in warm weather. The congenially sanguine concoction typically features red wine, fruit and ice and is sometimes spiked with brandy or vodka.

Although the drink’s history is unclear, sangria appears to go back centuries as a simple mixture of wine with fruit in Spain and Portugal. Much earlier, combining wine with water and sometimes adding lemon or other fruit was a custom in Roman times. And Spain – then Hispania – was one of the Roman Empire’s major wine-producing regions. But wine was discouraged during the multi-century Moorish period in Medieval Spain, so there would not have been continuity with whatever Roman wine customs might previously have prevailed.

In any event, by the 20th century sangria was well established in Spain. The drink was so routine there
that one of Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s characters blandly adds Prozac into the blender
as she churns her mid-day sangria in the critically acclaimed 1988 black comedy-drama, “Women on the
Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” Still, sangria was relatively unknown in the US until its introduction in
1964 at the Spanish Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. Then for a few decades its American
popularity soared.

Strawberries, now ripening, make a luscious seasonal sangria. Citrus juice adds balance, and when that juice includes grapefruit it adds a subtle, complex bitterness as well. I enjoy herbal overtones in sangria. Mint, flourishing now, does well, as does fresh rosemary, a perennial in Athens.

The traditional sangria wine in Spain is red and made from the Tempranillo grape, most classically from the Rioja region. However, to complement the delicate flavor of strawberries I would use a combination of red and white wines. American bars, by the way, tend to use whatever’s left in already-open bottles to make their “Sangria Special.”

Young, inexpensive — but drinkable – wines, I think, are the way to go, like uncomplicated wines from Spain, Chile, or Australia. A fine wine’s subtleties are masked by the added fruit, herbs and sweetening. Save the good stuff for drinking on its own. Or, better yet, send it to me.

The recipe makes about 12 (6-ounce) servings, good for a party. A small punch bowl or a large glass pitcher presents sangria well.

Strawberry Sangria

1 (750 ml) bottle fruity red wine, such as Tempranillo or Merlot, chilled
1 (750 ml) bottle white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc or (unoaked) Chardonnay, chilled
1/4 cup brandy or vodka, optional
2 tablespoons frozen grapefruit juice concentrate
3 tablespoons honey
6 (5-inch) sprigs fresh mint, rinsed, or 2 (3-inch) sprigs rosemary, rinsed – or both
1 small navel orange, organic preferred
1 pound strawberries, organic preferred
3 cups ice cubes
Fresh mint leaves for garnish

In a bowl combine the wines, distilled alcohol if used, grapefruit juice concentrate and honey. Stir to dissolve. Add fresh herbs. Scrub orange but do not peel. Slice crosswise 1/4-inch thick. Reserve 4 middle slices. Add the rest to wine mixture. Rinse and hull strawberries. Slice lengthwise 1/4-inch thick. Reserve a third of them and add remainder to wine mixture.

Allow the sangria to mellow for at least half an hour, refrigerated, stirring from time to time. Taste, and add a little more honey or grapefruit juice if needed for balance. Shortly before serving, strain the mixture into a small punch bowl or a large pitcher. Add the ice cubes and reserved fruit, cutting the orange slices in half.

Serve in wine glasses or small tumblers, putting several pieces of strawberry in each glass. Garnish the glass with a fresh mint leaf.

Salud!

Want to learn more about Tim Dondero before he became a restaurateur you can watch this documentary from Global Health Chronicles.

Tim Dondero
Tim Dondero
Tim Dondero is co-owner and executive chef at Donderos’ Kitchen, 590 N. Milledge Ave. He retired last year from his day job as a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. During his long career in international health and infectious diseases, he and his family lived for many years in Southeast Asia and West Africa. He also worked extensively in the Americas, Asia and Africa. An enthusiastic cook since childhood, he always sought out local restaurants and local cooks when traveling. Now in Athens, he devotes his time to his restaurant, catering, teaching and blogging about cooking (timdonderosrecipes.blogspot.com), and writing occasionally for BoomAthens.

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