Pitcher Perfect: 10 Sangria FAQs, Answered
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What do we know about sangria's earliest origins? 

That it probably began life as what the ancient Greeks and Romans called "hippocras", i.e. wine mixed with sugar and spices. Water during the era was often unsafe to drink due to contamination of various kinds or the presence of bacteria. Adding wine to the water made it safe to drink, while the flavoured additions made it more refreshing. In colder weather, the hippocras might even be served heated. Both sangria and modern-day mulled wine are descended from hippocras.

Then how did it develop in Spain?

The region that comprises present-day Spain had a thriving wine industry courtesy vineyards planted by the Phoenicians circa 1,100 B.C., with the Romans following similarly. As the wine business bloomed, so did the popularity of flavoured wine drinks. Under EU law, only the version of the drink made in Spain and Portugal can be officially labelled "sangria". In Spanish and Portuguese, the meaning of "sangria" is the same: bloodletting ('sangre' is the word for blood), a nod to the red wine the drink is most commonly made of.

So Spaniards must really drink a lot of sangria huh?

Not really. Sangria is highly popular among the tourist crowds so local bars and restaurants do have it on their menus. Spaniards for their part prefer to drink sangria at home or during family gatherings since it's perfect to mix in large batches. It is not their drink of choice for a night on the town.

Well, Spanish bars must at least have the best sangrias in the world...

Again, not really. Unlike other parts of the world where sangria has really caught on as a swish cocktail, with a variety of flavours and additions being experimented with, in Spain, it is far more staid. In fact, what most Spanish bars serve under the name of sangria isn't even sangria, it's a twist on a more authentic Spanish drink known as tinto de verano.

Tinto de what?

Verano. It literally translates to "summer red wine". It's made up of equal parts red wine and a carbonated soda (usually of a lemonade flavour), poured over plenty of ice. A slice of orange or lemon is added as a final touch.

Then what ingredients go into a sangria? Isn't it the same as this tinto thing?

No, the sangria is more complex. A classic recipe would entail wine, triple sec, brandy, simple syrup, a variety of macerated fruits (usually oranges, apples, grapes, berries, lemon/lime) and soda for fizz.

And the wine used can only be red, right?

Wrong. Feel free to make your sangria with white or even rose wine. (In addition to the standby reds of course.)

Time to tell the truth: is sangria just a way to get rid of cheap wine?

This depends on the establishment and whoever is mixing your drinks. Yes, the additions of sweet and spicy flavours would certainly mask an inferior wine and avoid offending your palate. But sommeliers recommend picking a good quality wine to ensure your sangria is also much more superior than it otherwise would be. Everything improves what is already good.

Question: how did sangria become so popular all over the world?

Most accounts trace the sangria's explosion in popularity to the 1964 World's Fair in New York. The Spanish Pavillion had stiff competition for visitors' attention: Michelangelo's Pietà was on display at the fair, courtesy a loan from the Vatican. Walt Disney has four shows at the same event. But the Spaniards still made a splash: their two-storey Pavillion, designed by Javier Carvajal, was dubbed the “Jewel of the New York World’s Fair”. It drew over a million visitors.

Oh that's cool. So what was there besides the sangria?

An official report for the 1964 World's Fair noted: "The Pavilion of Spain offered the visitor a complete, present-day yet eternal image of Spain, with its principal characteristics underlined. Its art, brought from the principal museums, with works by El Greco, Velazquez, Ribera, Zurbaran, Murillo and Goya; collections of contemporary art with special works by Picasso, Miro, Dali, Gris and the most renowned contemporary young artists. Two luxury restaurants, Toledo and the Granada considered the smartest of the Fair by all the gastronomical experts of the New York publications; a typical tavern, the Marisqueria Madrid, the favourite haunt of the numerous Spanish and Latin American colony of New York; three bars in which it is possible to taste all kinds of Spanish wines and specialties."