Sangria, the Ultimate Summer Refresher

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It may sound strange, but my love for fruity wine punches actually started when I was a kid. For generations, my mother's Neopolitan family combined ripe peaches and red wine during the summer months. Chilled on ice, this was the standard evening refreshment for the adults as I played Marco Polo with my sister in the pool on hot summer evenings. After swimming, the kids would be allowed to put a piece or two of the steeped peaches on top of their ice cream. As I slurped up my ice cream and peaches soaked with wine, I felt incredibly grown-up and lucky to be Italian.

I started enjoying Spanish sangria a year or two out of college and ordered it every chance I got. I learned that although I loved the taste of the wine with its integrated fruity flavors, I equally enjoyed biting into crisp fruit slices and sucking on orange pieces soaked with wine. I tried making my mother's peaches and red wine, but found it too straightforward a drink. I found, however, that by adding peaches to traditional sangria (which has some nice citrus undertones), I got the full fruity essence of summer while also attaining a more nuanced blend of flavors.

Most red wine sangrias use oranges, lemons and brandy. My version uses all three of these ingredients, along with fresh peaches in honor of my mother's family tradition. I also add cinnamon sticks to mingle in a little spice. I strong-armed my friend Teresa, who is from Spain, to try a glass and, to my great relief, she said it made her feel like she was back in Salamanca. I'm not sure if I'd go that far, but every time I pluck out a peach slice from my glass, I'm transported back to my parents' backyard on a hot summer evening.

Next week, I'll talk about Sangria Blanca.


Red Wine Sangria

Serves: 6 – 8

1 bottle dry red wine (such as Rioja, Zinfindel, or Merlot)
1 shot of brandy
¼ cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
2 Tbsp sugar
½ orange, sliced
½ lemon, sliced
1 peach, sliced
2 cinnamon sticks
Sparkling water

1. Juice one to two oranges until you have ¼ cup of juice.
2. Add juice to a carafe or pitcher along with brandy and sugar and stir.
3. Add the sliced fruit and cinnamon sticks.
4. Pour in the entire bottle of wine.
5. Cover pitcher or carafe with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to drink (this can be made up to one day ahead). If you want to serve immediately, just move on to step 6.
6. Place ice into a glass and then pour in some sangria. Be sure to add as much fruit as you'd like.
7. Add a splash of sparkling water and serve.