Sangria: It's refreshing, now it's legal

The Virginian Pilot


April 21, 2008

Jim Raper

VIRGINIA is for sangria lovers! That's never been truer than it is today.

No beverage tastes any better at a picnic on a warm Virginia day than ice-cold sangria. Also, as it happens, quite a few of the least expensive Virginia wines have the soft fruitiness you want in a sangria, and the state produces plenty of tree fruit such as apples and peaches to slice and dice and add to the mix.

But we in the Old Dominion have an even more timely reason to lift a glass of the ruby beverage. We can celebrate the repeal of Sangria Prohibition. A new law recently signed by the governor makes it legal for the first time in nearly 75 years for the states restaurants and clubs to serve so-called authentic sangria that includes wine and spirits.

Publicity stemming from the 2008 General Assembly was bound to stir up interest in sangria. Wrote one blogger on a legislative watchdog Web site that tracks bills, Does anyone have a recipe for sangria? What is actually in the stuff?

The name is the same

Sangria is so refreshing you would think that every country that grows grapes and tree fruit would have its own version and moniker for this beverage. But the Spanish and possibly the neighboring Portuguese seem to have contributed the basic recipe and name that most people use.

All around the globe, be it at a pizza restaurant in Virginia Beach, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Boston or a sidewalk caf in French Catalonia, when you want a pitcher of this punch, you ask for

sangria. Increasingly popular, too, is sangria blanca made with white wine or sparkling wine, and you also might come across rosado sangria or rose sangria made with pink wine.

The name comes from the Spanish word for blood, sangre (the Portuguese word is sangue).

Sangria ingredients

The basic sangria recipe calls for a nontannic red wine as the base. A not-so-fussy Virginia wine such as Rockbridge Vineyards Tuscarora Red ($8) is good, as are examples for $10 or less of garnacha/grenache-based wines from Spain and France, tempranillos from Spains Rioja, zinfandels from California or shirazes from Australia. If you prefer your sangria blanca, try verdejo from Spain, vidal or seyval blanc from Virginia or chenin blanc from South Africa.

Whether youre using red or white wine as a base, make sure the wine tastes more of fruit than of oak.

Citrus juice and citrus slices are found in most sangrias. Oranges are typical as an ingredient and garnish, while lemons and limes also are popular. Other common ingredients are: sugar, simple syrup, superfine sugar or even brown sugar; a tablespoon or so of brandy per cup of wine; sparkling water or citrus soda to taste; and spice such as cinnamon and coriander. For sangria with more vigor, drop a small, seeded chile into the pitcher.

You can improvise with whatever other fruit is available. Apples, pears and peaches are often used in sangria. Nectarines, mangoes, kiwi fruit and star fruit are beginning to show up, as are strawberries, blueberries or raspberries. Pomegranate or cranberry juices are called for in some recipes.

Mix your sangria at least an hour before you serve it. Ice is an option to add just before serving.

Sangria history

There is no way to prove this, but it seems probable that the first batch of sangria was made in Andalusia, the most southerly region of Spain around Seville.

Oranges and other citrus fruits of the region are of high quality, which is more than can be said for the regions red wine. So, according to a popular story about the origin of sangria, a resourceful Andalusian trying to make the red wine more palatable came up with the idea of mixing it with chopped fruit and letting it steep for a day or so. If even more flavorings were called for, in went a little Spanish brandy, perhaps a few sticks of cinnamon, and sugar to taste.

In America, sangria got its big break courtesy of Spanish concessionaires at the 1964 Worlds Fair in New York. Wrote The New York Times in August of that year, This Spanish drink is proving as popular at the current Worlds Fair as iced tea did at a previous one.

Serving sangria

Most restaurants in our country that serve Spanish cuisine have sangria on the menu. But sangria also is popular here at restaurants classified as Mexican or Latin American, and increasingly so at pizza restaurants. Icy sangria, unlike most undoctored wines, pairs well with hot chili and spicy dishes.

Don Harris, an owner of La Tienda, a company that sells Spanish foods, wines and household items from a shop near Williamsburg and online at , says the popularity of sangria has grown recently together with the popularity of tapas, the small plates of foods that at their simplest contain olives, shaved dry-cured ham or cheese, such as Manchego. Harris said sangria goes best with informal eats such as tapas. His family lived in Spain for several years, he said, and experienced sangria as a hot-weather wine cooler of a beverage made of ordinary wine and fruit and citrus soda.

Some may add a little brandy, but when you start pouring in Cointreau or some other high-end orange liqueur, thats like adding $100 worth of lobster to a paella. Thats simply not what the most folks do.

La Tienda sells the terracotta and ceramic pitchers that Spaniards traditionally have used for sangria, and Harris said he soon will stock sangria service sets of pitchers and matching cups.

Sangria Prohibition repealed!

Headlines such as Virginias Sangria Ban at Issue in 2 Hearings and Virginia Wine Law Makes It the Laughingstock of the Nation began showing up in newspapers and on Web sites right after the 2008 General Assembly session got under way in January.

Seems that a law that had been on the states books since the end of Prohibition made it illegal for a restaurant to serve wine or beer mixed with spirits. Because wine-based sangria is usually spiked with plain or flavored brandy, schnapps or vodka, the Old Dominions restaurants and clubs could not legally serve the so-called authentic sangria.

When a restaurateur in Northern Virginia found out about the law the hard way he was cited for a crime that carried the potential of a year in the slammer he complained to his legislators, according to the Washington Post. This resulted in measures to legalize sangria that won overwhelming support in both chambers of the 2008 General Assembly.

Nevertheless, the legislature may need to do a little more work on the ABC laws. The new exemption applies only to sangria. There is nothing to keep Virginia ABC agents from cracking down on scofflaws who serve other drinks that contain both spirits and wine or beer, such as kirs, kir royales and the newly popular beer cocktails.

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