Sangria is the perfect festive summertime drink, perfect to whip up a pitcher and share it with your friends on a hot day. It’s the perfect cocktail to drink in the sun, this Spanish mix makes a great accompaniment to tapas or Mexican food, or alternatively to cool you off while lying on the beach. Sangria is a wine-based punch, traditionally made from red wine and fresh fruit, and often seen with additional spirits and other ingredients.
If you want to make a delicious Sangria, then you’ll need to use the very best ingredients. As this summer drink is based on wine, you need to know the best wine for Sangria. This includes some great wines from Spain, of course, but also some Californian and even French bottles. As well as explaining what to look out for when selecting a bottle for Sangria, we’ll share some of our tips regarding the other ingredients, as well as some history about this refreshing Spanish punch.
Where did Sangria come from?
Sangria these days comes in many shapes and forms, it seems there are endless variations when mixing up a pitcher of Spanish punch. You can make it with red wine or rose, brandy or gin, with all manner of different fruits and flavorings. However, if you go far enough back, the recipe for Sangria is pretty simple. This is how it goes; wine mixed with whatever is on hand.
Ancient Romans and Greeks mixed their wine with sugar and spices, as well as whatever else was easily accessible. This drink, called Hippocras, was sometimes heated like mulled wine and is similar to Sangria in many ways. Hippocras was popular for the simple reason that water back then was full of bacteria, and incredibly unsafe to drink. This is why Hippocras was consumed by almost everyone, as the alcohol made the liquid much safer, and mixing in other ingredients made it safer.
It’s hard to pinpoint and explain the exact history of Sangria as no two brews were ever the same. Just as it is today, the best Sangria was homemade, so every historical Spanish household would have had their own preference of recipe. If we go back about 500 years, red Sangria ruled in Spain, traditionally made using Spanish Tempranillo and other Rioja, with added citrus fruit.
In England and France around 1700, a drink similar to Sangria was popularly made using French grapes. Variations included Sangria made with white wine, sparkling wine, and peaches were common, the latter called zurra. Sangria gained popularity in America in the 1960s and has been a favorite summertime drink ever since.
What type of wine is best for Sangria?
Most Sangria recipes call for a dry red wine, a drink whos acidity will perfectly compliment the sweet and fresh fruit you’ll combine it with. However, there are so many variations on the traditional Sangria recipes, this refreshing drink can be made with white wine, rose, and even sparkling wine. Sangria is such a versatile cocktail, it can be delicious when made with a whole host of ingredients.
If you’re adding a spirit to your Sangria mix, which most commonly is brandy, then a lighter wine will be just fine. If you add gin to your Sangria to mix up the recipe, heavier wine will be more appropriate to balance out the strong flavors from the spirit. In general, when picking out a wine for your Sangria, select a dry but fruity red, with good acidity but not too high in tannins. This will offer the best flavor combination when paired with your chosen fresh fruit.
The reason you want to avoid tannins is that Sangria is generally served chilled. Usually, it’s recommended to drink red wine at room temperature so as to fully appreciate the flavors, but as Sangria is a summertime drink, it’s often served with ice to cool you down on a hot day. Tannins, when chilled, tend to give an undesirable taste. Chilled red wine with a high tannin content generally tastes chalky, very astringent, and overall quite unpleasant.
You can use a fruity wine to compliment the fresh fruit you’ll be adding to the mix, although this is entirely up to personal taste. The more fruit-forward your chosen red wine, the more flavors of this nature will be in the end result. If you prefer a subtler taste, you can adjust the recipe to include different spirits and flavorings.
Best wine for Sangria
It’s no surprise that Spanish wine features heavily when it comes to the best wine for Sangria. Just as most wines are best when paired with food from their native area, Sangria is best when made with authentic Spanish wine. However, there are plenty of delicious wines from all around the world which are perfect for this fruity punch. We’ll lay out the best wines and grape varieties for use in your cocktail, any one of these options will create a delicious end result.
- Garnacha: Garnacha, or Grenache, is a Spanish wine which is low in tannins, perfect for Sangria. This wine showcases rich red fruits, with high acidity, and these elements make Garnacha your ideal go-to for a delicious red Sangria. Berry flavors in this wine, accompanied with a slight citrus taste, means it’s already on its way to becoming a delicious fruit Sangria.
- Pinot Noir: This French wine is another popular choice for mixing into Sangria, as there’s less threat of it overpowering other flavors in the drink. Pinot Noir is a dry red wine and usually offers red berry flavors, with good acidity.
- Tempranillo: For alternative Spanish flavor, but equally delicious in flavor, try out Tempranillo wine in your next Sangria. This red wine from Spain offers deep color, great texture, with fruity notes of black cherries and blackberries and just a hint of cola. You generally want to avoid heavily oaked wines when making Sangria, so choose a bottle without the Crianza or Joven label. Although Tempranillo is often oak-aged, a younger wine is more appropriate for Sangria. This way, you’ll retain the rustic flavors without tasting too much wood in your cocktail.
- Zinfandel, Primitivo: These two wines are made from basically the same grape, the difference being Zinfandel is of Californian origin, whereas Primitive comes from Italy. These wines feature rich jammy fruits, with lots of floral notes and accents of spice. This makes a bottle of Zinfandel or Primitivo the perfect base for your Sangria.
- Nero d’Avola: Another Italian wine, grown and produced in the south of the country, Nero d’Avola is an excellent choice for making Sangria. This lighter red wine is almost like a dry rose, perfect for using in a lighter variation of Sangria. Sicilian Nero d’Avola is dark, juicy, and soft, with sweet tannins and flavors of plum, similar to Shiraz.
- Bonarda: This lesser-known Argentinian wine is an excellent pick for Sangria, and a more economical choice too. Bonarda is usually cheaper than other options, which might make you feel better about mixing it, yet it remains equally delicious! This lush and fruity wine from Argentina combines wonderfully into Sangria, with rich notes of raspberry and plum, hints of spice and an explosive palate with red cherry, mint, and chocolate.
A few recommendations from us
Now you know the most popular types of wine to use in Sangria, and the main grape varieties to look for, we’ll share a few of our top picks, specific bottles that make a delicious cocktail. Remember, you’re looking for a dry, fruity red wine. Try to avoid oak-aged and woody flavors, as this will contradict your other ingredients. Aim for a bottle low in tannins, so the recipe will still be delicious when chilled.
We recommend using a reasonably cheap bottle, rather than your very best red wine. You should still pick a bottle that you’d enjoy on its own, not just the cheapest possible. The wine is the base of your Sangria, so you still want it to be tasty. However, bear in mind that you’ll be adding in other ingredients to your drink, so don’t waste your best bottle of Spanish red on a cocktail!
1. Mark West Pinot Noir
As we’ve established, Pinot Noir is a fantastic choice for use in your summer Sangria. This Mark West bottle is medium-bodied, with tonnes of fruity notes. You’ll notice black cherry, strawberry, and plum, alongside flavors of cola which we think really compliment a Sangria mix. This Pinot Noir from Mark West is produced in the cool-climate regions of California, creating a delicious fruit-forward wine. The tannins in this bottle are soft and unobtrusive, making it an ideal bottle to serve chilled as a Sangria.
2. Campo Viejo Tempranillo
This Campo Viejo Rioja is a perfect example of delicious Spanish wine, made from Tempranillo grapes which lend themselves perfectly to making Sangria. This wine is lively and flavorful and is the perfect base for an exciting cocktail. Ripe red fruits with notes of vanilla and sweet spices make this Rioja a great choice if you prefer a sweeter cocktail. Sure, it isn’t as dry as most would recommend for a Sangria, but the great thing about creating your own mix is that you can tailor it to your preference.
3. Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel
This Californian wine made from Zinfandel grapes is one of the best for making Sangria and a fantastic budget bottle. Rish and dark berry flavors complement the fresh fruit you’ll use perfectly, and notes of plum and pepper spice up your cocktail. This bottle offers a spicy and slightly chocolatey finish, which offers you a way to elevate your Sangria without increasing the price tag. You can also enjoy plenty of floral notes from this Zinfandel wine, it’s a refined and downright delectable choice.
Other ingredients and tips for the best classic Sangria
Although wine is, of course, the ingredient of the utmost importance when it comes to making Sangria, you’ll want to perfect every element of this drink. Your chosen wine is the base, providing the bulk of the drink’s volume, and many of the flavors it will exhibit. However, you should make sure you carefully select the rest of your ingredients, paying as much attention as you would to the wine. You can’t just put effort into one ingredient and be lazy with the rest; think of every addition as equally important.
After wine, the next most prominent ingredient in Sangria is fruit. You should always use fresh, ripe fruit, as anything else threatens to taint your carefully selected bottle of wine. The purpose of fruit in Sangria is to provide sweetness and a whole lot of flavor to the drink. This means you should only use well-ripened fruit so you get the best aroma and fruit sugars.
Fresh orange juice adds an amazing taste to Sangria, so squeeze out the juice from ripe fruit and mix it in. Depending on the size of the pitcher you’re making, you could juice half an orange and thinly slice the other half for stirring in. Additionally, add chopped up and prepared fruit that’s in season in your area. Strawberries and peaches make a wonderfully aromatic addition in the summer months, offering fragrant and fruity flavors. In colder times of the year, apples and pears make a delicious Sangria, simply slice them up and add them in.
You can use practically any combination of fruits to make a delicious Sangria, this summertime cocktail will always respond well to stone fruits and berries especially. We would caution against using fruit like a banana for obvious reasons, but other than some pretty easy to spot exceptions, most fruits will combine beautifully with a well-chosen dry red wine.
The majority of Sangria recipes call for brandy to be added, which turns the drink into a true cocktail. Brandy will add a decent kick to your drink, as well as raising the alcohol content, so be mindful of this when adding it in. It isn’t necessary to use an expensive brandy when making Sangria, just be careful not to overpower your carefully chosen flavors.
Sweeteners are an optional extra when it comes to Sangria, if you prefer a drier drink then it’s absolutely not necessary to add any. Your chosen fruit should be ripe and aromatic enough that you don’t need to add additional sweetness if you’ve used fruits that are in season. However, many people prefer a sweeter cocktail, and sometimes just a touch of sugar can help round out the flavors and particularly balance the spirits like brandy.
You can use sugar as an essentially flavorless sweetener, or alternatively, honey or maple syrup can add a different flavor element to your Sangria. Always be conservative when adding in your sweetener, use just a bit at a time and taste the mix until you’re satisfied. There’s no reason you can’t whip up a batch of Sangria and enjoy it straight away, but for a much better drink, make it a few hours before. This way, you’ll get much more flavor and fragrance from the fruit, allowing time for the ingredients to integrate and really develop. After that, serve it up in your best Sangria glasses, and enjoy!
How to change up a Sangria
There are lots of ways you can spice up a traditional Sangria recipe, to make it a bit more exciting. Sangria can be made lighter and more refreshing, such as using white wine and peaches. This is a much more fragrant option, and ideal if you aren’t a big fan of red wine cocktails. Fizzy Sangria is also popular, you can achieve this by using a sparkling wine as your base. Remember, if you use sparkling wine, you won’t be able to let the flavors develop for as long, otherwise you’ll lose all your bubbles.
Another variant of Sangria that offers a fizzy cocktail also alters the drink to have slightly lower alcohol content. Add some soda water into your Sangria pitcher to create a less strong drink, and add a bit of fizz to your summer cocktail. On the other hand, the great thing about homemade Sangria is that you can make it as boozy as you like. If you aren’t a fan of brandy, gin or rum can also make an excellent addition to Sangria. You can pick out a spirit that better compliments your other ingredients, or just one that you like the best.
By now you should be an expert in the art of making the perfect Sangria. The most important element of this wine-based cocktail is, of course, the wine, so make sure you choose the right bottle. The best wine for Sangria is a dry red, not too expensive, but still a delicious pick. Aim for a fruity and flavorful wine that’s low in tannins, this is the best way to create a tasty and flavorful chilled cocktail.
Spanish reds such as Tempranillo and Garnacha make an authentic choice, however, some Californian and even French wines can be just as well-suited. Armed with this knowledge, you’re now ready to impress your friends with the best Sangria they’ve ever tasted; perfect for your next garden party.
Bonus tip: Feeling thirsty now? Check out this video for a fabulous Sangria recipe!