When I heard that a friend of mine, Jan Boyer, was flying to visit his mother, Josefina Clara Alberti, in her native Spain, I asked him to bring me back something from his trip – his mother’s recipe for sangria.
Jan soon sent me an e-mail from his mom’s house, where a heated debate on the merits of competing recipes had just ended. Also visiting Jan’s octogenarian mother was an old friend of hers from Mexico, where sangria is a quite different concoction than it is in Spain.
The recipe championed by Alberti was solidly in the Spanish tradition – wine, brandy, assorted sweet fruits, sugar and soda. Her friend Susana Manterola insisted on wine, lime and sugar. Who was right? We’ll see.
The big draw to the Spanish Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair wasn’t the paintings by El Greco, Goya and Velazquez, or even a trio of Picassos, a pair of Dalis and a Miro. It was the sangria.
The Spanish drink and the entrees, too, were so successful that when the fair was over, one of the restaurant managers, Alberto Heras, stayed on in New York and opened a restaurant called “The Spanish Pavilion.” It was a hit, and sangria enjoyed a brief burst of fashionability. In a 1966 article on “What’s In,” Time magazine declared that classic cocktails had been shown the door: “Old-fashioneds these days are oldfashioned. Manhattan has become a tight little island without Manhattans.” Vodka drinks were all the rage, it seems, and “Sangria, a Spanish punch combining red or white wine with fruit syrup and seltzer, has made a host of converts.”
But by the 1970s sangria had developed a reputation as the sort of drink favored by impoverished grad students – a way to make plonk palatable. When Frank Schoonmaker, in his 1970 “Encyclopedia of Wine,” wanted to describe the sad state of a Spanish wine called Priorat, he dismissed it as being “often used in sangria and other wine punches.”
The recipe that was used by the restaurants of the Spanish Pavilion at the World’s Fair makes for a very dry and elegant sangria. To one bottle of red Spanish wine was added a couple of ounces each of Spanish brandy (which is fuller and nuttier than cognac) and Cointreau, one lemon and half an orange cut into slices, a couple of dozen ice cubes, 12 ounces of club soda and only two tablespoons of sugar.
But a slightly sweeter and fruitier sangria is more satisfying. And that’s the sort I got when I mixed up the recipes given to me by Jan’s mother and David Bueno, sommelier at Taberna del Alabardero in Washington, D.C. Both call for using a sweet lemony soda such as 7UP instead of club soda. Both call for more fruit – diced peaches, apples and oranges. And Bueno’s version adds a couple of ounces of peach liqueur. The result is an absolutely delicious summer cooler.
What of Manterola’s Mexican sangria recipe, which is also common to the West Indies? I have to admit I was leery, and my instincts proved decidedly wrong. Though I prefer the sort of sangria made by Taberna del Alabardero and Jan’s mother, the simple wine, lime and sugar version from Mexico is a worthy alternative.
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OLD PUEBLO SANGRIA
CASA VICENTE 375 S. Stone Ave., 884-5253
Details: It is closed for vacation through Aug. 8 (reopening Aug. 9), but has red or white sangria by the 1-liter carafe or “large” pitcher.
EL CHARRO CAFES • 311 N. Court Ave., 622-1922; • 4699 E. Speedway Blvd., 325-1922; • 6310 E. Broadway, 745-1922; • 100 W. Orange Grove Road, 615-1922
Details: All of this Tucson landmark’s locations offer red sangria by the glass: 100 percent fruit juice, red wine served on the rocks.
J BAR 3770 E. Sunrise Drive, 615-6100
Details: It sells its sangria from an “ancient J Bar recipe” by the glass.
RED SKY CAFE AND CATERING 2910 N. Swan Road, 326-5454
Details: As one of its summer specials, for its Latin-inspired Wednesday Date Night & Dancing ($35 per couple), the menu includes a “bottle” of sangria.
(Adapted from Taberna del Alabardero and Josefina Clara Alberti)
1 bottle Spanish grenache wine
2 ounces Spanish brandy
2 ounces Cointreau
2 ounces peach liqueur
1 peach, peeled and diced
1 green apple, peeled and diced
1 orange, peeled and diced
1 pinch ground cinnamon
6 ounces orange juice
4 ounces Sprite or 7UP
Soak the fruit in the liquors for up to a day. When ready to serve, add wine, cinnamon, orange juice and soda. Pour over ice into tumblers.
Makes about 8 servings.
(Courtesy of Susana Manterola)
Half a bottle of good Spanish red wine
juice of 3 limes
peel of one lime, grated
2 tablespoons sugar
Combine in a pitcher with a dozen ice cubes, and let sit until all the ice is melted. Serve.
Makes about 4 glasses.