Last Call

Five Tips for Making the Best Sangria Ever

Ring the bell, it's time for Last Call, where JK Grence, bartender at Shady's, serves up booze advice and recipes. Got a burning question for your bartender? Leave it in the comments and it might be answered in a future column.

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Congratulations, you've almost made it to Labor Day Weekend, the ceremonial Last Day of Summer. At many parties and barbecues this weekend, people everywhere will crack open a nice cold beer. Indeed, even I, your faithful cocktail muse, will likely enjoy a couple of brews with friends this weekend. But, there's another option that barely takes any more effort than opening a beer. That option is sangria. Everyone seems to think their recipe is best. And, many of them are pretty good; sangria is a laid-back drink that takes well to variation. Really good sangria is more about solid technique than any specific recipe. Here's how to take your sangria to the next level.

1: Use Inexpensive Wine, Not Cheap Wine. Using expensive wine in sangria is like using super-premium vodka in a Bloody Mary. The wine is buried under so much other stuff that you're going to have a hard time telling the difference between sangria made with a $30 Rioja and Three-Buck Chuck from Trader Joe's. As long as you pass on el cheapo jug wine like Franzia or Carlo Rossi, you'll have a tasty end product.

2: Skip the Fruit In The Glass (Unless You Really Like It)

I have a surprise for you. You know those bits of cut-up fruit that you leave soaking in the wine? They don't add any fruit flavor to the drink. The wine barely penetrates the fruit. Don't believe me? Check out the photo to the right. That was left to soak overnight; the wine didn't even penetrate a millimeter into the apple slice. All that happens is the fruit picks up a little of the wine's flavor. I hear some of you howling "But I like the boozy fruit!" I can't blame you, I have a soft spot for it too. If you want to add fruit, cover thinly sliced pieces of fruit with a little of the wine in a separate container, and let it sit overnight to soak up some wine. Then, add the wine back to the sangria, and put a couple of bits of fruit into each glass as you serve. Any reasonably firm fruit will do; apples, oranges, kiwi, mango, peaches, strawberries...

3: Mash Some Fruit

So, if soaking the fruit doesn't add any fruit flavor, how do you get fruit flavor into the sangria? Simple, you mash the living daylights out of some fruit. I always use at least an orange and a lemon (unpeeled so the zest can release its flavorful oils). Anything else that goes in is a matter of whim. Firm apples and pears don't mash well, but just about anything else will work. Just slice it thin, add a little sugar, and use a wooden spoon (or your trusty muddler) to get the juices flowing. After soaking overnight in the fridge, strain out the mashed fruit bits, they're not very pretty in the glass. 4: Booze It Up With the wine and juice alone, sangria is a pretty lightweight drink. So, spike it with some high-proof spirits. A couple of ounces each of orange liqueur (Grand Marnier, Cointreau, generic triple sec, et cetera) and brandy are a good base. From there, a splash or two of fruity cordials are a welcome addition. A friend of mine does an especially good version with a healthy splash of cream sherry.

5: Add Sparkle Sangria is light summer drinking. The extra spirits and sweet juice can weigh it down, so some bubbles are the perfect finish. Club soda or your favorite non-dark soda work fine. If you go the club soda route, you might wish to add a little extra sugar at the start.

Sangria Base Recipe 2 oranges 1 lemon ¼ cup sugar 1 750 ml bottle inexpensive red wine ¼ cup orange liqueur (such as triple sec) ¼ cup brandy Chilled citrus soda or ginger ale

Thinly slice the oranges and lemon. In a deep pitcher, muddle the orange, lemon, and sugar. Add spirits, and refrigerate overnight. Strain out muddled fruit. To serve, pour sangria over ice in a wine glass, and add soda to taste.

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JK Grence
Contact: JK Grence