The History of Sangria… and a Sparkling Suggestion

Sangria jarIn yesterday’s blog, I told you about breaking my personal 35-year ban on Sangria while having dinner at a tapas bar in Barcelona.

Intrepid reporter that I am, at one point during that meal I asked one of our servers, Maria, how they made their Sangria. She put her right index finger up to her lips and whispered, “Shhh… it’s a secret.”

Little did she know that from my seat, not only could I see into the kitchen, where the tapas were made, but also behind the side counter of the bar. And there, I spotted several empty 2-liter bottles of Fanta soda. My suspicion is that their “secret recipe” was nothing more complicated than some fruity red wine, Fanta soda pop and ice.

Although she wouldn’t reveal the house recipe — perhaps because I was right — Maria did tell us about the history of Sangria in Spain, and how locals think of it as a type of wine cooler… which, when you think about it, is exactly what it is.

She said that the first Sangria probably was made 2,000 years ago by the Romans, who mixed wine, water, spices and herbs to make a flavorful concoction. The idea was that the alcohol would destroy the bacteria in the local water, which had poisoned many people who drank it straight.

Today, Maria added, there is no standard recipe for Sangria in Spain. It can range from the rather simple (but still quite enjoyable) version that she served us to much more complicated and sophisticated drinks with many more ingredients, which are being concocted in the trendy lounges and nightclubs of Madrid.

Maria said that the red wine Sangria served at her restaurant would be referred to by locals as tinto de verano. Although I couldn’t coax the recipe out of her, a server at another Barcelona restaurant told me their tinto de verano consisted of red wine, ice and lemon soda. He also told me that some restaurants add a splash of vermouth.

When was Sangria introduced to America? It could have happened earlier, but there are records that show it was served in the Pavilion of Spain at the 1964 World’s Fair, held in New York.

Because there is no single accepted recipe for Sangria, there’s a lot of room for lending one’s own preferences and personality to homemade versions. Here’s a recipe that one of our tasting panel members used at a recent party. While it’s somewhat similar to the one we featured in Thursday’s blog, a key difference is the use of soda water. “People liked the spritz,” she said.


  • 1 (750-ml.) bottle fruity (not oaky) red wine (such as California Zinfandel, Sangiovese or Merlot — like those featured in Vinesse’s Sangria Reds Collection on sale now)
    • 1/4 cup Brandy
    • 1/4 cup Triple Sec
    • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
    • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 1/2 orange, thinly sliced
    • 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
    • 1 (750-ml.) bottle sparkling water, chilled


  1. Combine everything but the sparkling water in a large plastic container or glass pitchers.
  1. Cover and chill completely (1 to 2 hours).
  1. When ready to serve, add the sparkling water.
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Posted in Editor's Journal, Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes
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