The warm weather brings with it both lavish and relaxed evenings of drinking, dining and laughing with friends. But just as winter's sweaters and dark colors melt away to make way for form-fitting splashes of color, the drink menu at your favorite hangout becomes a caloric minefield.
Delectable but diet-dooming mudslides, pina coladas, daiquiris, and a whole host of other syrupy sweet drinks can pack hundreds of calories. Even worse, low-cal options like straight vodka and club
soda are painfully devoid of satisfying flavor and sweet finesse.
Thankfully, there is the sensational springtime drink sangria. More than just the fruity, punch-like drink served at pseudo-Mexican and Spanish restaurants, a good sangria is crisp, refreshing, and rich in flavor. And when made correctly, it has half the calories of its slushy, sugar-laden pool-side sister drinks.
SANGRIA IS MORE THAN A HOLIDAY PUNCH
Despite its appearance on countless Mexican restaurant menus, sangria actually hails from Spain, and proudly so. Its name comes from the Spanish word sangre, or blood, bringing to
mind the dark red wines that are used to make this flavorful concoction. In present-day Spain, sangria is the equivalent of our standard holiday punch – a bit of fruit, more than enough
alcohol, and individual touches all combined together and served at family parties or gatherings.
Some insist is was strictly a peasant drink, a cheap way to get drunk on whatever was left in the cabinet, while others explain variations have appeared at festive events of all social classes for centuries. Regardless of its exact origins, most sangrias follow a basic formula: wine, brandy and/or other spirits, fresh fruit juices, and various fruits for garnish.
SANGRIA IS A HEALTHIER ALTERNATIVE
While sangria certainly is not calorie-free, it trumps frozen drinks (your standard strawberry daiquiri with whipped cream garnish will cost you almost 600 calories), syrup infused martinis
(chocolate martinis can have upwards of 400 calories), and even old-reliables like rum and coke for several healthy reasons.
Red wines are rich in phytochemicals like resveratrol, a substance which has shown promise in protecting against heart disease and other oxidative diseases. Red wine (in moderation, i.e. 1 to 2 servings maximum) has also been linked to lowered risks of ovarian cancer and Type 2 diabetes. Additionally, the fruit flavors in sangria come from actual raw and fresh squeezed fruits, unlike the premixed sugar-laden fruit cocktails and colas used at bars. Fresh fruit and its juices generously provide antioxidants like vitamins C and E. Even better, if you make sangria properly, you will never need the extra table sugar that some recipes require, saving you empty high-carb calories.
Sangria lends itself well to creativity – mix and match various fruits and wines, add in seasonings like ginger or vanilla bean, and use your imagination! As an added tasty bonus, you can freeze fruit into ice cubes – berries and cubes of apple look stunning suspended in white sangria.
GOOD WINE IS A KEY INGREDIENT
Some oenophiles will insist that using a good quality wine in sangria is a waste of money – do not listen to them. While you should not spend $100 on a vintage vino, do opt for a good wine that you would enjoy drinking without added ingredients. A good wine may cost more than a cheap bottle, but the heady depth of flavor in your fine sangria will be worth the extra cash.
Basic Red Sangria recipe
1 bottle (750 ml) red wine (Spanish table wine or merlot work fine)
4 oz. Grand Marnier or simple brandy
1/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/3 cup fresh pineapple juice (optional)
Ground cinnamon to taste
1 orange, sliced into rounds
1 lemon, sliced into rounds
1 lime, sliced into rounds
1 half apple, unpeeled, chopped
In a large bowl or pitcher, combine wine, brandy, fruit juices, cinnamon and fruit, reserving some fruit for garnishing. Let chill for at least one hour. Pour over plenty of ice. Garnish with remaining fresh fruit.
Raspberry Grapefruit Sangria recipe
1 bottle (750 ml) merlot or cabernet wine
6 oz. raspberry liqueur or Chambord
4 oz. Grand Marnier brandy
1 pint fresh raspberries
1 grapefruit, sectioned, with pith removed
1 lime, sliced thin
Several sprigs of mint for garnish
8 oz. grapefruit juice (fresh if possible)
6 oz. fresh squeezed orange juice
6 oz. club soda
In a large bowl or pitcher, combine wine, liqueur, brandy, half of the fruit and mint. Muddle well. Add in juices and let the mix chill for at least one hour. Strain well. Add club soda and serve over plenty of ice. Garnish with remaining fresh fruit and sprigs of mint.
Sweet White Sangria recipe
1 bottle (750 ml) sauvignon blanc wine or champagne
4 oz. peach schnapps
6 oz. apricot brandy
8 oz. pineapple juice
2 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
4 oz. fresh squeezed orange juice
1 orange, sliced into rounds
1 small peach, pitted, diced
2 vanilla beans, split
1 peach, sliced
Several springs of mint for garnish
In a large bowl or pitcher, combine ingredients and let chill for at least one hour. Strain well and serve over plenty of ice. Garnish with peach slices and sprigs of mint.