Our sangria technique worked so well with white wine, we adapted it to rosé. Portuguese rosé vinho verde was our favorite, but any lightly sweet rosé will work. To make it, in a large pitcher, stir ¼ cup white sugar, a 750-milliliter bottle of rosé, 6 large strawberries (sliced), a 6-inch piece of cucumber (peeled and thinly sliced), a jalapeño (seeded and sliced) and 5 tablespoons lime juice, lightly bruising the fruit. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight. To serve, stir in 1 thinly sliced lime, 1 cup fresh raspberries and 2 cups soda water. Serve over ice.
In this country, sangria often takes the form of a boozy, cloying fruit cocktail rather than a refreshing, sophisticated cooler. We wanted to lighten the load.
In fact, sangria’s origins skew closer to the sweet stuff. It got its start two centuries ago as a one-stroke solution for killing bacteria in water and cutting the taste of bad wine. But as the quality of wine improved, it became a way to make red wine (“sangria” derives from the Spanish word for blood) appealing during Spain’s sweltering summers. Seltzer or soda water and ice cut the wine’s density; fruit and spices make it more vibrantly—and seasonably—flavorful; and just a little sugar makes it supremely quaffable. (The Spanish are not shy about diluting their wine. At Feria de Abril, the technicolor festival that takes over Seville’s streets each spring, the all-day beverage of choice is the rebujito: dry, almost briny fino or manzanilla sherry mixed with lemon-lime soda.)
For Milk Street’s sangria, we focused on keeping the recipe simple, clean and fresh, while dialing back the sweetness. Be began by skipping the hard liquor. Without brandy,
We also opted to make the sangria with white wine rather than red. We liked vinho verde—a Portuguese white—for its bold, bright flavor and slight effervescence.
But that got us only part of the way. We also wanted more nuanced flavor. Inspired by a recipe from Janet Mendel’s “Cooking from the Heart of Spain,” we infused hot simple syrup with lemon, orange, cinnamon and celery—an unusual choice that contributed a welcome savory note.
Mendel also added mint sprigs, but we swapped them out for basil to add subtle anise notes. The results were delicious, but the taste was slightly muted. We wondered if the heat needed to make the syrup dulled the fresh flavors in the infusion.
So instead of making a syrup, we simply stirred ¼ cup sugar and the basil into the wine until the sugar dissolved. That was followed by fresh orange and lemon juice, celery stalks, a couple cinnamon sticks and a handful of peach slices.
After an hour in the refrigerator, the wine was infused with the ingredients’ aromatic, herbal, fruity flavors. Turns out heat had played a role in masking the syrup’s ingredients: Some of the flavor compounds in oranges are particularly volatile when heated.
Seltzer or soda water and slices of citrus finished the sangria. The basil and celery balanced the added sugar, which was already less noticeable thanks to the lack of liqueur. Served over ice, the result was a faintly sweet sangria that was abundantly refreshing, relatively low in alcohol and ideal for summer sipping.