The wife and I love to entertain. There is nothing better than having friends come to visit and enjoy food and drink together. Inevitably, guests bring gifts, appetizers and sometimes wine. As you might imagine, many of our friends are aware that we like good wine, so some bake cakes instead. They just can’t bring themselves to spend $20 or $30 on a good bottle of wine, although they are more than willing to drink ours. Then there are the folks who know we like wine and stop at Market Basket on the way to pick up a 1.5 liter bottle of something like Yellow Tail shiraz. We, of course, graciously accept their gift but think, “What are we going to do with this?” Our annual Cinco de Mayo celebration inspired the solution: sangria!
Sangria is a Spanish wine punch that was first introduced to the U.S. at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. It’s not really Mexican, but it seems to fit the theme. Now, I was on a mission to find a recipe. After doing significant research, I discovered huge variations on the type of fruit to use, which spices, and whether to add brandy to punch it up. I settled on using citrus fruit — oranges, lemons and limes — cinnamon sticks, cloves, brandy and a shot of Grand Marnier. None of the recipes said much about which wine to use, and I questioned if making sangria would be even better if I used good wine. My experience tells me that good wine is much better for cooking and drinking, so I began to search for a really good Spanish wine.
The two most popular Spanish grape varieties are tempranillo and garnacha. Tempranillo grapes typically make a very structured wine that is high in tannins and a great choice to accompany grilled meats. Garnacha tends to be a bit smoother and a more fruit-forward grape that I would pair with sweeter foods like my famous grilled chicken with Open Pit barbecue sauce. Garnacha was my choice, so I chose a wine that I had tasted and really enjoyed: 2014 Veraton from Bodegas Alto Moncayo. Veraton is made from 100 percent old-vine garnacha grapes and has chocolate and black fruit notes. It was a truly fine selection that made some friends cringe when I told them I was using it to make sangria. I asserted that to make the best sangria one must use the best quality wine. Of course, this was just a theory that required testing.
Our Cinco de Mayo celebration draws a big crowd, so it was a good opportunity to make a comparison. I made two batches of sangria, one with the infamous Yellow Tail shiraz and the other with the soon to be famous Veraton, using the exact same recipe. It needed to sit in the refrigerator overnight, but I tasted each batch as I was making it, and it was clear that the beverage with the Veraton was much better than the Yellow Tail. We instructed guests to taste both batches and vote for the one they liked the best. I tasted each again and found only a small difference between the two. I was surprised that our guests overwhelmingly chose the good wine version, but everyone agreed the difference was subtle. I think the Hennessy overpowered the sangria, so I would leave that out the next time.
I’ve concluded that sangria makes bad wine taste good and good wine taste bad. The flavors seem to mask the qualities of the wine, which is a good thing if the wine is less than great, but I really spoiled some great garnacha. Don’t be stubborn like me. Ignore your wine snob friends and make sangria from cheap wine. I suspect this Spanish innovation was a way to take wine that wasn’t so good and doctor it into becoming a palatable beverage. With any luck, I won’t have the need to make sangria again until next Cinco de Mayo. Until then, I’ll make it a point to stop by Andover Classic Wines and pick up some of the Alto Moncayo Veraton. Instead of sangria, this will be my 2017 go-to barbecue wine.
Andover Classic Wines