Photography by Daniel Wood styling by Seth Van Havere
Many cocktails can be traced to a specific bartender, restaurant or hotel in the 20th century – sangria is not one of them. The name comes from sangre, the Spanish word for blood, so it’s fitting that the drink’s history begins with a notoriously bloody nation. Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Romans stormed into Spain, conquering citizens and planting vineyards. At the time, water was often mixed with wine so that the alcohol could kill bacteria in the water. They threw in a few herbs and spices, and an early version of sangria was born.
While there are earlier whispers of similar cocktails, sangria first officially came to North America at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, where it was offered at the Spanish pavilion. One of the reasons sangria is so hard to pin down is that there isn’t a hard and fast recipe about what to include. Whichever wine you like, whatever fruits are in season, a splash of this or that – the flexible cocktail is as versatile as it is refreshing.
While traditional versions generally use red wine, many bars and restaurants in Edmonton are opting to offer a white-wine version of the popular summer drink in addition to the classic red. Restaurants are finding innovative ways to serve the beverage as well – Central Social Hall has opted to forego the traditional method of steeping the sangria in pitchers, instead serving it on tap. If you like your sangria with a little sparkle, Sabor even has one made with cava, a sparkling wine.
A Special Blend
At the Hotel Macdonald, merely opening one bottle of wine for the sangria isn’t good enough. Director of food and beverage Viju Vasudevan, a certified sommelier himself, developed a special blend of three varietals for both the red and white versions. The white is a mix of pinot gris, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. The red, which Vasudevan says is particularly popular because of its hint of spice, is comprised of merlot, syrah and pinot noir.
According to Vasudevan, the secret to sangria is in the blend. While sangria made with one wine may or may not appeal to a consumer depending on his or her personal taste, sangria with a mixed body of varietals will provide balance and offer something for every preference. “It’s going to be everybody’s favourite,” Vasudevan says.
Regardless of what your favourite blend might be, this cocktail is undoubtedly a summer staple, though Vasudevan says it sells well year-round. “Last year [in the warmer months] … weekdays, weekends, it was just getting sold and sold in pitchers,” he says.
320 mL chardonnay Splash of lemon juice Splash of orange bitters Dash of white sugar Splash of soda water Lime, lemon and orange slices
First, create the Director’s Blend of white wines by combining the pinot gris, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay in a pitcher. Add lemon juice, orange bitters, sugar and soda water; mix well. Add the citrus slices and let steep, preferably for a few hours. Garnish with fresh mint and serve with ice.