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Sangria - From Spain to the Mexican Fiesta

In Mexico, when you want a refreshing drink, or "bebidos," you don't have to go far. The advantage of fresh fruits makes sangria a natural delight just about everywhere, along with licuados (fruit blends) and many other treats. Truth is, this deep-red fruity drink has a greater attachment to Spain that was hundreds of years in the making. The word "sangria" means blood, which explains the color. If you're using white wine, however, it becomes "sangria blanco."

Of course, when the Spaniards arrived by force in Mexico, they eventually brought their wines. In good style, the Mexicans upped the ante and added a touch more alcohol to this traditional drink. So, a Mexican sangria might just give you more of a buzz than those that are "authentically" from Spain. In the U.S., sangria is a great down-home favorite - it's more of a casual party drink and not for formal affairs at all (don't even think of it!).

So, select a really fun and fruity wine for your sangria and you'll have a refreshing treat on hot afternoons. Even better, it's a wonderful combo for spicy foods, which means you can serve it any time you have a Mexican meal. In reds, try a merlot, pinot noir, or beaujolais and for whites I suggest a sauvignon blanc (on the dry side) or pinot grigio.

There are no real tricks to mixing up a great sangria. It's one of those drinks that you can make up as you go or work from hundreds of recipe variations. I prefer whipping up a quick simple syrup, rather than dissolving sugar directly into the mix. The recipe is below along with one of my favorite and easy recipes.

A couple of things about sangria, especially if you haven't tried it before:
-It's fine to make up big batches for parties. You can do that a day ahead of time. Just don't let the fruit sit in the liquid too long. Peels will give off a bitter taste after about an hour.
-For those of you who remember what it's like to taste "warm" sangria, you'll understand the importance of keeping it very cold. That means plenty of ice cubes and serving in smaller batches from the fridge. Just fill a pitcher with ice and transfer from the larger container in the fridge as needed to serve. When fruit slices go limp, it becomes a bit unappetizing.

You don't need a fancy wine, but don't skimp too much. All that matters is that you enjoy the taste straight from the bottle. It'll be great in a sangria.

Let's make the simple syrup first. It's so easy.

Simple Syrup

Use a small saucepan and combine 1 cup water with 1 cup sugar. Bring it to a boil and stir to dissolve. Once the blend is clear, let it cool. Refrigerate until needed (up to 3 weeks). Makes 1 cup.

About 6 servings

1/3 cup Simple Syrup
1 fifth chilled red or white wine (a regular bottle size, which is .750 ml or 25.4 ounces)
2 oz. brandy (any type)
½ cup fresh squeezed orange juice (carton or frozen will do)

1 orange
1 lime
1 lemon
8 oz. chilled club soda

Combine the simple syrup, wine, brandy, and orange. Double or triple the batch as needed. Refrigerate overnight or several hours.

The orange, lime, and lemon should be quartered or halved and thinly sliced.

When ready to serve, combine the refrigerated mix with the fruit slices and the club soda, then stir gently. Add ice to glasses and pour.

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