“A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing and the lawn mower is broken.” –James Dent
“Hey! It’s summer! Be free and happy and danceful and uninhibited and now-y!” –Terri Guillemets
“Summer afternoon–summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” –Henry James
My husband has sometimes referred to me as a “late adopter”. I admit this has been true of certain forms of technology. I’m not the first one sprinting out of the blocks to run with the latest tech innovation when it is hurled into popular culture. But, when I do decide to jump in, it’s with both feet. I’m consumed with learning all there is to know. Afterward, it’s impossible to remember life as it was before…
This summer I surprised myself with a totally different type of “late adaptation”. It happened to be with a beverage I had never ever tried, even once.
On the American Independence Day holiday weekend [July 4th] with Dietician Daughter, her husband and his Kansas family, she served me a berry and fresh fruit topped drink in a tall glass with a straw. It was deep burgundy in color. The icy glass, sweating beads of humidity, was garnished with succulent fruit. It was her version of Sangria.
On a sultry summer afternoon, around a backyard table with good people, this new drink captured, and held, my attention. First, there was the thirst-quenching coolness. Then, there was a sophisticated lushness of summer berries in red wine. I loved it immediately and drank another glass. I had to know everything about it…
Sangria has been around for 2000+ years. When the Roman Empire reached the Iberian Peninsula of Spain and Portugal and began mixing wine into the water to sanitize it, the beginnings of Sangria were probably born. Long a common informal drink on the European continent, Sangria was not widely consumed in the U.S. until it was introduced at the New York World’s Fair in 1964.
I have been to the Iberian Peninsula in western Spain twice in the past two years, hiking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, but I was not offered Sangria there. We drank delicious Galician wines in the evenings, after a day of hilly hiking, as an accompaniment to the excellent regional food. It was poured straight from the bottle and never mixed with anything.
Sangria comes from the Spanish and Portuguese word “sangre” meaning blood, because of its’ usual dark red color. It is traditionally made with Spanish red wine, fruit, brandy, some kind of sweetener and ice. Carbonated water may or may not be added for fizz. This is not a necessity.
That’s all there is to it. This is also where Sangria becomes much more interesting. With a rudimentary knowledge of ingredients, the end result is in the hands of the maker. Nutritionist Daughter caught my imagination with her “berry” form of creativity. Now I find I can’t drink it any other way.
I really tried. For the rest of the summer, since that hot July weekend, I began ordering Sangria in bars and restaurants. Some were made with white wine, some with red. At the very most they might have one or two pieces of shredded, mangy looking citrus fruit in the bottom of the glass. Tasteful pizzazz and eye candy beauty were seriously lacking. Not one was memorable. Not one reminded me of friends and family sharing stories and playing games around an outside table on a late summer afternoon. Not one begged to be repeated.
Thus, my short scientific study convinced me that the only Sangria worth the name and the calories is the one you make yourself. With ingredients you choose. The wine must be of a quality that you would drink on its own. The fruit, according to my now highly discriminating tastes, must be plentiful. And FRESH. Keeping the carbon footprint in mind stick with any fruit in season.
So, here is the very, very best summer SANGRIA you will ever make. Or drink. It’s simple, it’s fruity, slightly dry and slightly sweet, a bit boozy, and very refreshing–like a lazy summer day. Pass the pitcher around a table in the mountains, by the sea, on the deck or patio or in the middle of the backyard. Heap more berries on top and serve with a spoon on the side!
Sit back and say “yes” to a berry good summer. Then, if possible, lie down and muse for awhile in a hammock strung between two leafy trees.
“Summer is the time when one sheds one’s tensions with one’s clothes, and the right kind of day is jewelled balm for the battered spirit. A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all’s right with the world.” –Ada Louise Huxtable
LARA’S VERY BERRY SUMMER SANGRIA
- fresh whole berries [or pieces of other fruit] for garnish
- ice to chill
- 750 ml bottle of Spanish Red wine, chilled [I used Ribiera de Duero. Rioja works well too.]
- ½ C. brandy
- ¾ C. orange juice
- 3-4 T. brown sugar
- any seasonal combination of blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and/or strawberries. [Or use peaches and mangoes]
- ½ orange, rind on, sliced thinly
- ½ apple, skin on, chopped
In a large glass jar or pitcher, place fruit and sugar and muddle with a wooden spoon or muddler. [I love the concept of muddling as in messing things up.]
Add OJ and brandy and muddle again. Add red wine and stir.
Taste and adjust flavors to your liking. [More brandy or OJ or sugar as you wish.] Stir again. Add ice to chill and serve as is in clear glasses.
Get the fruit on. Garnish with lots of fresh berries or fruit of choice. Serve with a spoon for scooping winey fruit into your mouth between sips.
May be stored, covered, in refrigerator to steep and chill several hours, but then don’t add ice until serving.
Best drunk within 1-2 days.