If I had to move to another country, Spain would top my list. I love the little dishes called tapas that let you sample an endless range of flavors. Instead of a standard 3-course meal, you can have five or six or more small plates of food. With friends, you can easy sample and share a dozen or more dishes.

And to go with all that delightful food is the great gift of sangria. Now, literally, sangria translates as bloodletting so you probably think red wine is a necessity. Actually, there are several options when it comes to sangria-making:

  • Red or white wine?
  • Which fruits to use?
  • Additional liquors?
  • Sugar or not?
  • Club soda or not?

Tranditionally, sangria is made with a Rioja from Spain. Cocktail expert Mittie Hellmich in her book Sangria recommends Rioja Coscha for red sangria. And Rioja Reserva for white.

What is the difference between red and white? It’s enormous. The red recipes tend to be bolder, in part because of the fruits that are used — more on that below. The white sangrias are often more delicate and balanced with the fruit flavor able to present  to a greater degree. For a brunch or afternoon event, white sangria is a treat. Red works anytime and truly can support the heavier appetizers of an evening tapas run.

Which fruit to use? Sangria means fruit, of course. And the combinations are unlimited. But citrus flavors — oranges, lemons and limes — seem to go best with red. Red wine can overwhelm subtle melon flavors — cantelope or watermelon — or bananas. Apples and peaches will work with both red and white. Berries — strawberries or raspberries — work with either red or white. In white sangria, they are more distinctively present. And in white sangria, you can add a dash of herbs, say mint or rosemary.

Many sangria recipes call for boosting the flavor by adding additional alcohol. A recipe from twenty years ago might say to add a half cup of brandy. And this still works. But today, with a much richer variety of liquors available, you may find recipes calling for the addition of two or three liquors in small amount. Typically for one 750ml bottle of wine, those additions will total to that half cup or less. For example, a mix of triple sec or grand marnier might be recommended. [Don’t worry, I have that one in test]. Or, as in the recipe below, you can go for something more exotic like Pomegranate Liquor. If your liquor cabinet has some nearly empty bottles, now is the time to experiment.

Sugar? Some recipes call for up to half a cup of additional sugar. I used to be that aggressive, but now I tend towards ripe, sweet fruit and a strong liquor, like pomegranate.

And finally, the club soda issue. For a standard 750ml bottle of wine, many recipes call for adding about 12 ounces or 1 ½ cups of chilled club soda. I think a taste test is required to decide if you want to add the club soda, and then how much. For the recipe below, my first taste told me that I had a very, very bold beverage. My guests appreciated a dash of club soda to just calmly mute the flavors. So, taste and add club soda as you need it, and as your taste buds react to both the sangria and any food you have on hand.

Grab some fruit, a bottle of Spanish wine, and experiment. I will tell you this particular recipe is delicious. The Pomegranate Liquor is the “secret ingredient” that makes people question just what is the “mystery flavor.”

Brian’s Pomegranate Sangria

Yield: serves 4


1 bottle red Rioja
1 lemon
1 apple
3 peaches
½ cup Pomegranate Liquor
¼ cup superfine sugar
12 ounces club soda


Pour the Rioja into a large pitcher. Thinly slice the lemon and add to the pitcher. Peel the apple and peaches, cut thin slices, and add. Pour in the liquor and stir. Then pour in the sugar and gentle mix to ensure the sugar is fully dissolved.

Chill for at least 30 minutes. Two hours is the ideal time to prepare ahead so the fruit flavors can be fully introduced.

Just before serving, taste test and add club soda as needed. Serve in small glass with a lemon wedge or other garnish. You want to drink this cold and undiluted, so do NOT put large amounts into glasses filled with ice. The melting ice will dilute the flavor far too much.

Source: Brian O’Rourke