It's summertime (well, maybe not quite officially, but my thermometer is telling me otherwise) and so I'm always thinking of something cool to serve. Sangria is a really nice option for warm weather dining, but don't be scared off by the awful sangrias you may have been served in restaurants. Often overly sweet, and sometimes made with really cheap wine, some of them aren't fit to drink. A well-made sangria, on the other hand, is tasty and refreshing, a nice accompaniment to a light meal from the grill or an assortment of summertime finger foods.
Sangria is essentially a wine punch that originated in Spain and Portugal. As with pretty much everything you drink or eat, the quality of the ingredients is important. While this isn't the place for a $60 cabernet, neither do you want a really cheap bottle of wine. What you do want is a reasonably priced, fruity red; a Spanish rioja is frequently recommended, but if you have a favorite fruity red wine, go with what you know.
The other ingredients that typically go into a standard sangria include a bit of orange liqueur (again, don't be cheap here), some sweetener, and a selection of seasonal fruits.
This is one beverage that you want to make ahead by at least a few hours so that the flavors can meld together. Here's what you need:
1 750ml bottle of a fruity red wine, such as a Spanish rioja
½ cup Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
1.5 oz simple syrup
Fresh seasonal fruit, especially sliced citrus fruits
Combine the wine, Grand Marnier, simple syrup, and several slices of citrus fruit in a serving pitcher. I like to go heavy on the sliced oranges and light on the lemons and limes. Chill for at least a couple of hours before serving.
At serving time, add any remaining fruit to the pitcher and stir gently. Serve in big glasses over ice, and don't forget to put some of the fruit in each glass. Whole strawberries, other types of firm berries, and chunks of melon are really good in sangria. Use fruit that will hold up to being soaked in liquid.
Variations: Of course, there are variations, and as always, they're limited only by your personal tastes and preferences. Try making this with a white or a rose wine; add some orange juice to the wine and Grand Marnier. Leave out the Grand Marnier altogether. Add some club soda, seltzer, or even ginger ale to make a lighter drink and add some sparkle. Most importantly, remember to kick off your shoes and relax.