Cocktail trend of the moment: sangria old and new

Most summer drinks are quick, easy, and straightforward: beer, gin & tonic, spiked watermelon, you get the idea. Sangria, though popular, is a different kind of beast. Strictly speaking, it is neither wine nor cocktail but a hybrid (technically a punch, though also referred to as a "winetail" by some libation geeks). The recipe has always been purposefully vague, even sloppy: Use what you have. This makes it very adaptable and forgiving. But never simple. Proportion is the name of the game and everyone's palate is different.



Usually, there's nothing more than cheap red wine, brandy, sugar, chopped fruit, and a little club soda or ginger ale. Bartenders in recent years, however, have rediscovered and reinvented the drink. They're swapping out everything imaginable, losing the brandy, the sugar, and sometimes even the wine.


New versions of sangria from around the country play with three key elements: the wine, the spices, and the supporting cast of liqueurs.

JUST ADD OTHER LIQUEURS
Eben Freeman, the master mixologist at Tailor restaurant in New York , sticks to the classic recipe but adds orange liqueur (such as Triple Sec) and lemon juice. He recommends using a light Spanish red, like a Rioja, and Spanish brandy to keep in all from the same country. And he believes the added sugar is optional. You can view his "How to Make Sangria" video, and related recipe in the cocktail database at Epicurious.com. Creative types can also play with Chambord , which will darken the drink. Or Limoncello, which will not.

JUST ADD SPICES
In San Francisco, Duggan McDonnell of Cantina makes sangria shots, Caribbean style. His cocktail recipe features hibiscus syrup, a traditional Barbados spirit called falernum (flavored with lime, cloves, and almonds), and Jamaican black rum, in addition to red wine. Spice fans can also add chopped mint, dill (as a garnish), and/or cinnamon sticks, perhaps for use as a stirrer. Depends on what you like, as always.


JUST ADD WHITE WINE
"White sangria" functions as the natural counterpoint to red sangria. Like white wine in general, the flavors are less berry and more apple/peach. Vermillion, in Chicago , offers a Latin-Indian variation called the Herbed White Sangria made with white wine (fruity Chenin Blanc or Gewürztraminer), brandy, Cointreau, mint, lemongrass, tamarind and passionfruit juices, mandarin syrup, ginger water, and lychees. To make a less exotic, scaled-down version at home, you can try pairing sparkling wine, Cointreau, orange juice, apple juice, slices of fruit (nectarine, paech, orange, pear, apple), and a dash of club soda.

JUST ADD BEER
At Boqueria, a tapas restaurant in New York 's Chelsea region, the cocktail list includes an odd signature drink, the beer sangria. They combine Corona, lemon juice, pear puree and Triple Sec; pour the mixture over ice; and garnish it with fresh summer fruits (most people use slices of orange, apple, and lemon though you could add cherries or grapes too). The beer-based libation is yellow (not red), pairs nicely with grilled meats, and should appeal to brew fans more than wine snobs. It's probably best served in a pitcher, rather than by the glass, if only so you can have seconds and thirds without needing to make a new batch every time.


For 26 more sangria recipes, check out the Epicurious.com cocktail collection.

James Oliver Cury is the executive editor of Epicurious.com and former editor of Time Out New York 's Eat Out section. He is a member of the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards Committee and has been a judge at the Culinary Institute of America, the Jack Daniels World Barbecue Championship, and the Food Network's Iron Chef show. When he's not stuffing his face, Cury tries to make sense of pop culture. He's written for dozens of magazines, including Esquire, Playboy, Details, Entertainment Weekly, Maxim, Men's Journal, SPIN, Glamour , US Magazine, Food & Wine, and Every Day with Rachael Ray. His book, The Playboy Guide to Bachelor Parties (Simon & Schuster), came out in 2003.


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