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How to Make Traditional Sangria

Sangria in Spain: Why Ordering Sangria in a Bar in Spain is a Bad Idea

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Sangria in Granada, Spain

Sangria in a bar in Granada. Put fruit in a tourist's drink and he's yours.

Image:Damian Corrigan

There are few things more famously Spanish than sangria. An icon of the Spanish 'fiesta' and imitated the world over, tourists in Spain flock to the bars to sample sangria done the traditional way. Unfortunately, your search for 'traditional' sangria is likely to be in vain. Find out all about Spain's best kept sangria secrets, a standard sangria recipe and some alternatives and varieties to try.

What is the Secret to a Good Sangria?

Sangria doesn't have any big secrets. Sangria is just this:

  • Cheap red wine...
  • ...that has been made stronger with liquor...
  • ...and then watered down and sweetened to make it more drinkable...
  • ...with chopped fruit.

A little practice is needed to make good sangria, to get the right balance of sweetness and alcohol, but be skeptical of any bar that claims to make 'traditional sangria'. There is no such thing. 

Sangri is usually drunk at parties. A good host wants to get their guests merry. With the cheapest red wine far, far cheaper than the cheapest beer, serving wine makes sense if you're on a tight budget. But because the wine is so bad, you need to dilute it and flavour it to make it drinkable. But now it's a lot weaker, so you add liquor to give it back its potency. That's what sangria is made for. Check out this Good Sangria Recipe if you want to make sangria at home.

Sangria in a bar in Spain

Most bars in Spain that sell sangria are aiming it at tourists. That's not to say that the locals never drink sangria in a bar. Think of it more like you would expect tropical punch in your own country. The most likely place you would drink it would be at home, right? If your local bar was to sell it, you might on occasions drink it, but it wouldn't be your main drink. And if you saw a bar full of tourists, all of them drinking tropical punch because they thought that was what the locals did, you would laugh at them, wouldn't you?

But I want to drink sangria!

OK, so you understand the Spanish don't drink lots of sangria and you don't mind looking like a tourist - you are one, after all. Should you get sangria in a bar? How would you recognise good sangria? You wouldn't would you? And that's precisely the problem: they know you don't know any better, so you're unlikely to get a good drink.

I'm not saying bars in Spain are all out to swindle you. But, considering most Spaniards don't drink sangria in a bar, in most cases you're going to come up again once of these two situations:

  1. You're in a bar that never makes sangria and doesn't have a recipe to hand. The barman won't want to lose a sale, knows you won't know the difference, so will probably just serve you red wine and lemonade.
  2. You're in a bar that advertises it sells sangria. This means you're probably in a bar for tourists. Good sangria is strong. But there's no point in a bar serving you sangria with a big slug of brandy in it if you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

Good Sangria or Not, I Like What They Serve in a Bar in Spain. So Sue Me!

If you like what you're getting in a bar in Spain, then you're in luck! What they are serving you is almost definitely something other than sangria, but it is indeed excellent and is actually drunk by the Spanish.

So what is it? 

Most sangria you drink in Spanish bars is actually 'tinto de verano' or simply 'tinto con limon': a weaker but more refreshing drink than sangria.

So if you're in a bar in Spain and you like sangria, order tinto de verano instead. Why? Because:

  1. The Spanish themselves drink tinto de verano. You want to blend in, right?
  2. Tinto de verano will probably be cheaper than 'sangria'.
  3. It's probably what they would have served you anyway!

Read more about Alternatives to Sangria such as tinto de verano.

OK, I'm Convinced. But What Else Should I Drink if I Want to 'Go Local'?

Unfortunately, that'll be beer. Or gin and tonic. 

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