5 Things You Can Do to Make Great Sangria for Cinco de Mayo
Nothing says fiesta like a glass of wine confettied with sweet fruit. Cinco de Mayo is an excuse to celebrate. Why else would every bar in town get all Fourth of July for a neighboring country's holiday? Sangria is a cool way to get your red wine fix when the sweltering heat demands an iced beverage. Sangria also is easier to serve than margaritas -- no blender, no salt on the rims, and no special glasses. Here are four dos and one don't:
1. Do not add sparkling water (or 7Up)
Adding them means you're making a spritzer or wine cooler and you're either a girl in high school or reliving your glory days as a girl in high school. Diluting the wine with any sort of water is like opening up a 3.2 beer factory. Why? Drink less (or drink plain water) if you want to stay sober, but don't water down your sangria; and if you do, please don't give me credit for the recipe.
2. Make simple syrup
Sugar water attracts hummingbirds -- and a fair number of bartenders. Good simple syrup is more than the sum of its parts -- it's a sort of nectar/secret ingredient that can make your drinks legendary. I add a quarter cup of simple syrup per bottle of wine when making sangria. I often serve sangria with spicy foods, and wine that's a little sweet pairs nicely. To make simple syrup, all you need to do is bring sugar and water to a boil. I like to boil it for a while so that the sugar takes on a slightly cooked, almost caramel flavor. I also like to add a cinnamon stick, some cloves, a few peppercorns, a pinch of salt, and a bay leaf to the boiling liquid so my syrup tastes like more than sugar. I boil long enough to reduce by a quarter, and then strain the cooled simple syrup into a glass or stainless container.
3. Macerate the fruit
Basically, get your fruit ready a few hours -- or even a day -- ahead of serving. As the fruits steep in their juices (and maybe some brandy), the flavors deepen and mellow. Let the fruit sit up to an hour at room temperature; longer than that in the refrigerator.
4. Fortify the recipe
Brandy never hurt fruit or sangria. We're not turning the sangria into some sort of boilermaker (okay -- maybe a little), but we are adding just enough 80 proof to give the drink an edge (and make up for the fact that there might be ice cubes diluting the wine). Instead of brandy you can use Cointreau, Grand Marnier, or triple sec.
5. Brûlée the fruit
In the same way that burned sugar turns pudding into crème crûlée, seared or grilled fruit adds a whole new dimension to sangria. This is the single best way to make your sangria the most popular drink at the party.
I like to serve my sangria in a huge stoneware bowl. It's festive and it holds an eight-bottle double batch so I don't have much of a bar to tend. While the bowl has nothing to do with flavor, it will be a centerpiece; so don't use a mixing bowl. If you don't have a suitable bowl then use pitchers. Salut!