Let’s be honest: by and large, Sangria sucks. You’ve tried the cheap, premixed bottles from the grocery store, you might even have made your own fruit juice and cabernet concoction for a summer party, and it can be fun – depending on your tastes – but for most people, it’s not something you seek out.

Well, I was like you. I’d tried the sangrias at restaurants, in premade bottles, and at parties, but it always left something to be desired. More often than not, it tasted like a bitter fruit juice, more tart, sugary aftertaste than anything else, and tended to leave you with a massive headache. So finally I took things into my own hands. Fruit, Wine, Summer – these things have to convert into something delicious! The secret, or secrets, as I found out, were simple. Making Sangria is like making great stew – you don’t really have one recipe and you mostly use whatever you’ve got around the house or can get at the corner store. But if you change how you think about Sangria, there’s no reason why you can’t make one evey bit as delicious as mine. (okay, practically every bit as delicious, since making Sangria is like, my super power.)

1) With the exception of Carlo Rossi jug’o’sangria (which is my preferred base, both for flavor, price, and useful container), DO NOT START WITH A PREMADE “SANGRIA”. Use a cheap, fruit forward red wine (we can talk about white sangria later, because it’s a whole nother beast) like a merlot, a cabernet, or a zin. If they don’t have Carlo Rossi Sangria, most of the other Carlo Rossi reds will work. If you’re using bottled wines and you’re making it for a party, you probably want at least 2 or 3. The end product will be fairly potent, but people will drink it like juice, so be prepared, in whatever sense that means to you…

2) If you are using the CR Sangria, you can skip this step, but if you’ve bought a regular red wine, you’re going to need sweetener – USE HONEY, NOT SUGAR. First of all, the sugar isn’t going to dissolve well, and then you’ll have a pile of it on the bottom of the jar. Secondly, honey has a better flavor and is better for you. Sweeten to taste. — You’re gonna have to taste this as you go, because that’s how greatness is made. So suck it up and find a spoon.

3) IF you add fruit juice, and that’s a big “IF” here, make sure it’s the good, organic, 100% juice kind. I recommend Acai juice (a new favorite of mine. try the mango!) or peach, mango, or papaya nectar. – Nothing too tart, you want mellow and exotic to combat the tanins in the wine.

4) Spices are key. They give the mixture a depth (we know how I love layered drinks), and keep it from getting too juicy. I always add some cinnamon (it’s easily found in most cupboards and a justifiable purchase if not), and some ground cloves, nutmeg, or even basil if it’s available.

5) Instead of juices, you’re  gonna add some flavorful liquors and liqueurs. I’ll explain below how you’ll incorporate them, and again, a big thing here is what you’ve got or can easily get, so don’t worry about having all of them, but some of my favorite ingredients include: Fireball Whiskey, Bourbon, Peach Schnapps, Triple Sec, Grapefruit Vodka, Peach Rum, Raspberry Rum, Dark Rum, or Dragon Fruit Bacardi. Typically, you want one of the harder alcohols (either rum or bourbon, whether it’s flavored or not), and then if the hard stuff is unflavored, you want at least one schnapps or liqueur. So you could use just Bacardi Peach, or you could add Jim Beam and peach schnapps, or, as in my latest batch, Fireball Whiskey, Peach Schnapps, Triple Sec, and Absolut Grapefruit, with a glug of acai juice plus cinnamon, basil, and ground cloves. Yum.

6) Diced fruit is good, and I know oranges are a “classic” ingredient, but stay away from oranges (particularly with peel still attached), and also from frozen fruit. My very favorite fruit to add is red apples (they soak up the alcohol and make getting your daily serving of fruit fun!), and strawberries, as well as raspberries and blackberries. It’s good to remember here that you’re making a drink, not fruit salad, so you don’t want anything that will be too difficult to slurp.

Now, you gotta let things soak. This is key. First of all, you’ll need to cut up your fruit (apples at the very least – they’re cheap and can be purchased at most cafeterias and bodegas) and put it in a medium to large bowl. For a large jug of sangria, use probably 2 apples, and 8-10 strawberries, plus other berries as garnish. Then add your liqours and spices, and honey if needed. You’ll want to put in at least enough to make the fruit float a little so it’s fully covered, and the ratios you’re aiming for are about 1/4 liquor/spices mixture to 3/4 wine base, not counting the fruit, which will get added afterwards to each glass as a garnish. If you’re having a party, you’ll want to make this up ahead of time so that the fruit can soak in the alcohol mixture for at least an hour or 2, though there’s nothing wrong with doing it the night before and keeping the stuff in the fridge. Then, once the juices have all mixed, strain the liquid from the fruit into your jug of sangria and keep the fruit separate in a sealed container (I used to mix it into the jug, but it makes pouring harder, and if you don’t drink the whole jug of sangria at this party, you can keep it around all summer – it just keeps getting better the longer the flavors sit! – as long as you don’t keep the fruit in the bottle with the rest. It’s not that the fruit goes bad so much as it gets a little mushy and the color gets leeched out, so that people find it less appealing. You can leave a couple pieces in there for flavor and keep the rest of the fruit separate, so that if you want to serve the stuff 2 weeks from now, you just cut up some new fruit!

So there you have it! Now you can make sangria like a pro! I told my college professor that it was “spanish punch” (which it is!) and brought some to a class function. We had a GREAT time, but I found out after graduating that my “Spanish Punch” had officially been banned from further appearence by my professor’s wife. (Wanh wahhhh…) Regardless, it wouldn’t be summer without my sangria, and it wouldn’t be a good party without some empty bottles, so put on your apron and try your hand at international cuisine. Just keep tasting as you go and I’ll guarnetee it tastes delicious by the time you’re done!

Bacon cheese dogs from Five Guys and Sangria - a perfect Cinco de Mayo!