Sangria without shame

Beverage Report
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Seeing someone order a pitcher of sangria in a Mexican restaurant always makes me think, "now there's a guy with no taste." If drinks have a code, then the code for sangria is: "my friends and I want to spend a couple of hours getting legless, and we want to do it cheaply."

On the other hand, the insensate approach to sangria is often the wisest: as served in most restaurants, these wine punches taste like sweetened kerosene. But they can be delicious if mixed at home, and make for jolly, uncomplicated, angst-free drinking on a fine Bank Holiday Sunday - which I hope you're enjoying as you read these words.

The $64,000 question - or $6.40 question, in this case - is which wine to use. The easy answer is that it shouldn't be too good or too expensive, which immediately disqualifies those made by Miguel Torres in Spain, California and Chile. His delicious Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Digna 1995, for example, from the Curico Valley in Chile, tastes like a pounds 9 bottle. Which should cause any wine lover great joy, because it only costs pounds 5.49 at Unwins, House of Fraser, Selfridges and elsewhere.

For Sangria we're talking about pounds 3-a-bottle wine, a dangerous commodity unless you've prepared your tastebuds with caustic soda and a wire brush, or have bought wisely from a supermarket or high street chain. Safeway's annual May Wine Fair throws up two red candidates: Young Vatted Syrah 1996 made by Hugh Ryman (pounds 2.99), and the delicious Argentinean La Rural Merlot 1996, Mendoza (pounds 3.49). Budgens has a Valdepenas Crianza, Diego de Almagro 1993 (pounds 3.19), which would also fit the bill. If you're making white Sangria you could also pick up a bottle of Budgens' Preslav Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc 1995 (pounds 2.99), which has the right balance of fruit and acidity.

But the choice of wine is secondary provided you use a good recipe. Here are two with simple, sunny appeal. I adapted the white version from a recipe on the Internet Chef website (http://www.ichef. com) - a good source of recipes and general gastronomic news and views. The red, a more serious drink, comes from a distinguished cookbook - The Spanish Table by Marimar Torres, daughter of Miguel - which sadly is out of print.

If the sun's shining, dig out some plonk and start mixing. I won't think ill of you for doing it - as long as I don't catch you ordering the stuff at your local Casa del Taco.


1 small lemon

1 small orange

1 ripe peach (optional)

45ml/3 tablespoons sugar

60ml/4 tablespoons peach schnapps

75Oml bottle white wine, chilled

Slice all the fruit, mix with the other ingredients in a large bowl or pitcher, and stir till the sugar is dissolved. Chill for an hour, strain into wine glasses and garnish with the fruit.


1 bottle full-bodied red wine

1 small lemon, thinly peeled in a long spiral

1 orange

1 peach (optional)

15ml/1 tablespoon sugar

45ml/3 tablespoons brandy

45ml/3 tablespoons Grand Marnier

15ml/1 tablespoon good gin

around 225ml/8fl oz fizzy water

fruit to garnish

Prepare the citrus fruits by peeling them (in a single long spiral if possible) and then slicing thinly. If using the peach, remove the stone and slice thinly. Mix with all remaining ingredients, except the water, in a large jug or bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate for a few hours. Just before serving, mix in the water and garnish with extra fruit if you wish. Serve over plenty of ice in tall glasses.