When I was a youngster, there were these commercials on television that intrigued me. Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill Wine had a catchy jingle, as did (Cruz Garcia's?) Real Sangria. Alas, these commercials were on the air when I was about thirteen or fourteen year's old; much too young to actually be imbibing in alcoholic spirits.
I started drinking wine when I was about twenty. At first, I liked the sweeter ones, but eventually I found that I favored the drier wines. My first wine love was Chardonnay (not coincidentally, the name of my youngest daughter, born 1989). I still love that wine, but I also find that the drier red wines, which I didn't like when I first started drinking wines, have now become my favorites.
The first time I saw an actual bottle of Boone's Farm, I remembered the commercials. I also realized that I didn't like strawberrries, and the gist I got just from the name was that this was going to be a sweet wine. I never really had any desire to try some.
Sometime around 1985, I was in a Latin American restaurant called Meson Olé with my wife. They had good margaritas, and for some reason, I didn't feel like having a margarita. I saw that they had pitchers of Sangria as well, and I remembered the commercials from my childhood and decided to get a pitcher.
The result was instant love, which surprised not only me, but Sandra as well. I'm not a fan of fruity wines (or of fruits, for that matter!). But this was a combination of red wine and fruit juices that made me tell Sandra that she should try this stuff. She did, and she loved it immediately as well. The next time I was at that restaurant, I ordered another pitcher. This time, it wasn't just Sandra and me. Her parents were there as well. Guess what? They loved the drink as much as we did.
After ordering it a few times, I figured that I was able to discern enough of the juices involved to make it at home. In my first try, I came up with the following formula of 8 parts burgundy wine, 4 parts orange juice, 2 parts apple juice, 1 part grape juice, and the juice of a lime (the key here is that each succeeding ingredient is about half as much as the preceding ingredient). To that, I added thin slices of apple, orange, two limes, and a bunch of Concord grapes. I added some ice to make an entire pitcher, and I had my own wonderful Sangria at home!
I've ordered Sangria elsewhere, including one of Sandra's and my favorite Mexican restaurants up here in New Hampshire. What I usually got was a pitcher of such utter sweetness that I couldn't even drink a single glass of it. I realized that I managed to catch lightning in a bottle when I first ordered it at Meson Olé, and have avoided ordering Sangria elsewhere.
I was still happy. I had my own recipe for Sangria, and I made it a lot back then, and every time I've visited Meson Olé, I've made it a point to order a pitcher of their wonderful elixir.
Last year, in 2008, a bunch of people I knew that were International Challenge Masters for Destination Imagination went with me to a place in Knoxville's Market Square named La Costa and had dinner. It was a Sunday, and they had their "liter of Sangria for half price Sunday" special. I ordered it, and was very impressed by it. It wasn't sickeningly sweet like the one I ordered in New Hampshire, but it wasn't exactly like the one I had at Meson Olé. There were some interesting spices in it. I loved it, and thought it was another perfect Sangria.
Well, when I was in Knoxville again this year, I knew that I was going to have to do La Costa's Sangria once again. This time, I was sitting at the bar and chatting with the bartender. I asked about the spices in their Sangria and found out that cinnamon and cloves were part of their ingredient list. I was also told that they make their Sangria twenty-four hours in advance—when they run out, they don't make any more that night (and I heard other people tell me that the restaurant ran out of Sangria one night when they visited).
I've decided to try to reproduce La Costa's recipe, and have taken the original recipe I adapted from Meson Olé and added the spices after doing a Google search for recipes.
Here's my latest recipe.
8 cups (divided) Burgundy wine (or any other dry wine)
10 Whole Cloves
2 Whole cinnamon sticks
3 cups Apple juice
2 cups Orange juice
1 cups Grape juice
4 Limes (divided)
1 Whole orange
1 Small bunch of Concord grapes
2 Granny Smith apples
To 1.5 cups of Burgundy wine, add the cloves and cinnamon sticks into a 1 qt saucepan. Heat until warm and then let sit for at least 10-20 minutes. Take off heat and let cool (add some ice to hasten this step).
Into a one gallon pitcher, strain the cooled contents of the spiced wine, and add the rest of the wine, apple juice, orange juice, grape juice, and juices from three of the limes.
Slice the remaining lime, and orange real thin. Add to the pitcher. Remove the grapes from their stems and also add to the pitcher
Core and slice one of the apples and add to the pitcher
Core and slice the second apple, and then dice the apple into â…›" bits. Put the bits into a jar, add some apple juice, and refrigerate.
Put the pitcher into a cooler or the refrigerator and allow about 24 hours for the flavors to marry.
When ready to serve, fill an old fashioned glass with ice, and strain the liquid from the pitcher into the glass. Add fruit, as desired, as a garnish into the glass as well. Then, take about a tablespoon of the apple bits and add it to the glass as well. Stir and serve immediately.