A family member recently asked me to weigh in with a sangria recipe, not because she’s sampled my sangria but, presumably, because she’s aware of three of my great loves: Spain, cocktails, and Martha Stewart. Martha, you see, is a prodigious Sangria mixer, and her recipe featuring prosecco and stone fruits is inspirational, to be sure.

Though I found I had to mess with it considerably.

And that’s the thing about sangria. I don’t like to use a recipe, preferring the Irish-style spaghetti bolognese approach: keep throwing stuff in until it tastes right. I’ve tried making sangria with recipes from favorite chefs (and whom I rely upon entirely when it comes to constructing certain sauces and baking anything) and found them not quite right. So I’ve played around. Here is what I’ve learned.

There are two major types of sangria: cocktail sangria and party punch sangria. Cocktail sangria is for when you are serving a few friends and you want to keep things classy. Party punch sangria can be served out of red plastic cups. (I know, I know. But you can recycle them.) If you are making cocktail sangria, skimp not. Use a nice wine—grapes from the Rioja work really well. I once used an EdenVale tempranillo from the Rogue Valley (a gift) that worked fantastically, but it retrospect it’s embarrassing that I put $35 wine in sangria. Still, use something decent. The Marques de Caceres rioja would be fine.

When making punch-style sangria, I generally go with white wine. I guess I just hate cheap red wine, even if it’s masked by fruit and sugar. I always use pinot grigio—Woodbridge or whatever is on sale—but any dry or semi-dry wine will do the job.

It’s nice when the fruit gets all boozy, so if I have time I like to add berries and grapes to the wine and store the mixture in the fridge for a few hours before serving. But I don’t like what that does to apples, lemons, and bananas, so if I’m using them I add them just before serving, when I add the soda water, brandy, and sugar.

A note on the brandy: if you’re making a punch and want to skip it, fine. But if you’re making lovely red-wine sangria cocktails that you’re going to serve in a rocks glass with nice fat ice cubes and a lemon wedge on the side, please don’t. I usually do about 2 tbsp per bottle of wine.

If you’re not comfortable experimenting, there are a gazillion recipes on the internet. Or you can get a bartender to make it for you. Tango has the best sangria I’ve tried in Seattle. At the Capitol Club you can drink it outdoors, and Ocho has a tasty version too (not to mention the best tapas in town).

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