Search For Sangria

Summertime Is The Best Time To Sample The Area's Fruit-laced Wine Drinks

August 26, 2009|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,elizabeth.large@baltsun.com

I think I'm pretty safe in saying that sangria is the hottest cool drink of summer 2009. You can't exactly call this fruity wine punch trendy - it's been around too long - but it goes perfectly with the foods that are trendy right now. That means every Latino restaurant and tapas bar in the area is offering its variation on the red wine and fruit juice theme. (Not to mention non-Latino cafes and wine bars.)

No other mixed drink that I can think of can be made so many different ways. These days you can use red, white or sparkling wine. The juice can be anything fruity. Brandy and orange liqueur are often added, along with a sweetener. Or not. Just before serving, some places pour in a bit of club soda along with ice to give it sparkle. Sangria's only constant seems to be cut-up fruit.

What's needed is some kind of guide to sangria before summer slips away. And I'm here to give it to you.

Saturday

My husband and I are sitting at the bar at Tapas Teatro next to the Charles Theatre, drinking what will be the first of many glasses of sangria at restaurants and bars throughout the area. We've just found out that the red sangria is made with two kinds of Spanish table wine, one dry, one fruitier.

My husband asks me, "Does sangria really need to be made with two different wines?"

I don't know, but Tapas Teatro's red sangria is very fine: a lovely balance with lots of fresh fruit soaked in alcohol. And at $4.75 a glass, it's a bargain. If I have to rate my sangrias, it gets four oles!

The white sangria - available only in the summer - is made with vino verde and a table white. Both contain fruit juices and liqueurs. Unfortunately, the white sangria, which tastes mostly of peach schnapps, gets only one ole!

Sunday

It's so hot we're thinking of having sangria for supper and nothing else. As I remember from my review, Mari Luna Latin Grille in Pikesville has a good one. My memory is right, but I didn't remember the $7.50 price tag, for a glass that has a lot of ice.

The bartender tells us the red is made with a cabernet, while the white's backbone is chardonnay, plus "lots of fruity liqueurs." She won't tell us what juices are used because the recipe is secret. I rephrase my husband's question: "Does sangria really need to have a secret recipe?" But the red is so good I'm not complaining. The white, however, tastes faintly of canned fruit cocktail. Maybe I just don't like white sangria?

Red: three-and-a-half oles! White: two oles! (The ratings would have been higher if the cut-up fruit had been better and there had been less ice.)

Monday

Could it be hotter than yesterday? Yes. And here I am chilling at Talara's bar. I order a glass of sangria (what else) and get the bad news: In the summer the Harbor East ceviche bar often has only white sangria, and this is one of those nights. On the plus side, it costs $5 a glass, not the usual $8, because it's happy hour.

The bartender looks surprised when I ask what's in it, but mentions chardonnay, mango rum, pineapple juice and "whatever we have to make it with." Things are sounding even less promising, but it turns out to be OK, something like a bottled wine cooler (my standards aren't very high) with excellent fruit in it. For five bucks, it deserves three oles!

Somehow I thought sangria recipes would be more standardized.

Tuesday

Here I am at the bar of Tio Pepe, the restaurant that introduced Baltimore to sangria. It's the only place I know of that offers the drink in three flavors: red, white and sparkling. The red is good, I know from past visits, so this time I order a glass of the sparkling.

We watch in amazement as the bartender fills the glass a third full of chopped apple and orange, then pours in healthy slugs of brandy and triple sec, then opens a bottle of Freixenet and fills the glass the rest of the way. OK, there may be an ice cube or two and perhaps a little sugar, but no fruit juice.

It tastes great, four oles! Or even five if you don't mind needing help getting off the bar stool.

Wednesday

No mas!

Saturday

Sorry, I just needed a break. Back in the saddle, or rather on the bar stool, now.

We're at La Tasca, the tapas place in the Pratt Street Pavilion. The bartender explains that we can get the traditional sangria or the "La Tasca," which is more like Spanish sangria, with apples and cinnamon. I go for the La Tasca sangria; my husband tries the other. They are ladled out of big glass jars at the back of the bar.

The La Tasca tastes like something that should be heated up and served at Christmastime. But even that isn't going to improve it. Can you get away with making sangria with cheap red wine? Yes, but not this cheap. Or maybe something else is wrong. I try a sip of the traditional. It's better, but only marginally so. The orange juice in it helps.

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