It's hard to be a wine snob when there's a fuzzy peach floating in your pinot grigio.
Sangría, a concoction that goes back to the middle ages and is still a summer staple in Europe, flips the idea of zeroing in on a good vintage on its head by adding a bunch of fruit and, well, whatever else you like. Essentially a punch made with wine, it's the all-inclusive vacation from thinking too seriously about wine, which makes it a perfect summer drink. The recipes for the chilled Spanish drink are as varied as they are unspecific, but there is a general series of steps:
1. Throw some fruit, and maybe some hard liquor or something bubbly, in a pitcher with some vino.
2. Steep. (Or don't.)
3. Chill and drink.
The classic recipe for the Spanish drink includes a dry red wine, fruit and brandy. That, however, is just the jumping off point. Martha Stewart has a recipe featuring cognac. Bobby Flay proposes pomegranate juice and blackberries. Alton Brown suggests pears, plums and Burgundy.
María Elena 'Nena' Salcedo adds tequila, vodka and rum to a cabernet for a sangría that sounds like a good recipe for a hangover. The owner of Nena's Mexican Cuisine at the Waterfront Warehouse in downtown Stockton serves her version fresh with citrus slices over ice, making one glass at a time and forgoing the overnight soak of the fruit. It's based on a combination served in her hometown of Jiquilpán, Michoacán, México.
"You've got to use a big glass because it's a big drink," Salcedo said. "To make it pretty you can slice an orange or a lime."
At the other end of the spectrum is a light sangria from Susan Ripken, owner of Ripken Vineyards and Winery in Lodi. There's no hard alcohol in the Ripken sangria. Instead, she combines a dry rosé wine with blood orange soda. Her recipe comes from one used a few years ago for parties at the winery. A 2005 Ripken sangiovese vintage was the inspiration for the punch. The sangiovese is no longer available, but the recipe is adaptable.
Ripken, who is winemaker at her business, suggests wines with a fruity undertone for sangrías. That doesn't mean cloying. Dry wines or medium bodied wines with a hint of flavor are her preference. Sweetness comes from the fruit and other add-ins, so don't look for a sugary wine to start with. Read labels and look for fruity descriptions.
"It doesn't have to be sweet with residual sugar," Ripken said. Ripken gives her fruits about two hours to soak in the wine, but there are no rules as far as the infusion.
"Some sangrías will soak for five days," she said. "In México they just keep it out and keep adding stuff to it."
Rubén Larrazolo isn't fond of long soak times either, contending the sliced citrus or other floaters soak up the flavor of the wine. His solution is to freeze fruits and use them to chill the sangría rather than steeping them.
"When you're ready to serve, just drop it into the sangría," he said.
The owner of Alebrijes Mexican Bistro in Lodi also stays away from sodas or other sugared drinks, preferring agave syrup or a fruity liqueur to sweeten his sangría. Larrazolo has taken the fruit drink concept a step further with 15 fruit- and herb-infused tequilas at his bistro.
As for wines, Larrazolo keeps it cheap and full-bodied. Think merlot or cabernet. Think $5 a bottle.
The wine "doesn't have to be expensive because you're going to mix it with stuff," he said. "You want to go for a full-bodied wine and (one that's) a little dry. You don't want it too sweet.
"That will make a perfect, perfect sangría," according to Larrazolo. "The key for the sangría is fresh ingredients."
Citrus is a good start, he said. If you prefer peach, toss some fresh in the blender and stir it into the wine. Fruit nectars are another way to add a bit of natural sugar, as are liqueurs. Try Solerno blood orange liqueur. A little fizz is also nice, perhaps a sparkling water. Not too much or it will dilute the wine.
"Always look for the fruit flavors." Don't skimp on the real thing though. "You always want to have some garnish of fresh fruit," he said.