Refreshing Sangria [It’s Not Too Sweet]

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As someone who works behind the bar, I know how controversial crafting a drink can be. Just look at the volumes compiled about the “proper” martini, a two-ingredient cocktail. And guests are constantly telling me about their interpretations of how to make an old fashioned. But few drinks elicit such passionate distrust as sangria, that lightly spiced and sweetened wine cocktail traditionally consumed during the summer in Portugal and Spain.

I think the reason so many people view this libation with skepticism is that they have tried only the sweet, syrupy versions served at mediocre restaurants. Well-made sangria, though, can be a wonderfully complex beverage as versatile with food as it is delicious on its own. Sangria pairs, perhaps obviously, with Spanish foods like paella, dried fruits, hard cheeses, oily almonds, cured meats, and chilled shellfish. It also goes well with all kinds of summertime dinner fare from Tex-Mex to barbecue to burgers.

A customizable drink

Don’t believe anyone who tells you that there’s one specific recipe for sangria and that anything else isn’t real. The only requirement to making sangria is that it contains wine. Everything else is based on personal preference. I start with an all-purpose sangria base, basically a mix of simple syrup, fresh (always) orange juice, brandy, and a dash of bitters. To that, I add a decent bottle of wine (see “Which wine?” on the facing page) and fruit, always some citrus and then whatever else is at its seasonal best. Because I go light on the amount of syrup, the resulting drink is not at all cloying; instead, it’s refined and refreshing.

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