When I first talked to Mr. and Mrs. Zen about making mole at their house, Mrs. Zen mentioned that she wanted to have sangria with dinner. Since they were being kind enough to have us over, I offered to make it.
Sadly, sangria seems to get a bad rap sometimes. My parents groaned when I mentioned this and suggested I just make a little bit so that we could all have some and then move on to wine. By the way--my dad is a huge wine buff, so he's not thrilled when people mess with it too much. Plus, the only sangria he's ever had was really sweet.
I am personally a huge sangria fan. My best friend Curry and I used to frequent the restaurant Alegria in downtown Long Beach, and they have the best sangria I've had outside of Spain. They also have incredible food, but I'm kind of biased. My best friends Curry and Lemmon and I dinner there with our dates before prom, and I've celebrated several birthdays (including my own) there.
Anyway, the trick to their sangria is that they soak the fruit for quite a while and store it in a container. When someone orders a glass of sangria, they pull out a wine glass, fill it partway with the saturated fruit, and fill the rest with wine. And it tastes the way sangria is supposed to: delicious but not sweet.
Curry and I tried making sangria once a few years ago, and for reasons neither of us could fathom afterward, we filled a pitcher with fruit, ice, and red wine. A few hours later, Curry suddenly exploded, "WHY did we add ice? All we did was water it down!" We also forgot the tiny detail about adding a hard liquor. It wasn't very good.
So I decided to do a little research this time before making sangria for some very picky people (my parents) who weren't sure it would be a success. Mrs. Zen can only drink white wine, so I started looking online at recipes for white wine sangria. Every single one (and I'm not exaggerating) that I looked at called for sugar of some sort, even honey. I'm sorry, but sangria is not meant to be sweet, and I couldn't believe how many people suggested serving it like that. When I mentioned this part to my parents they reiterated their reasoning for not liking sangria, and I retaliated by saying they'd never had sangria done right.
They didn't quite believe me. I ignored them and forged ahead, chopping up apples and a single nectarine. I'll admit I put in too many apples--one or two would have been good, but I used three. Once I'd dived up all the fruit between the two containers, I poured about an inch of spiced rum into one and an inch of brandy into the other. Normally only brandy is used, but I think rum is an overlooked liquor that has more possibilities than we realize. Plus, it's naturally gluten free.
I let it sit overnight. The next day, while the mole was simmering, Mrs. Zen pulled out wine glasses and let me pour for everyone. They all decided they wanted a glass of each so that they could taste the difference between the two.
Everyone loved it. My parents even admitted that they wrong and that it did taste very good. As you can see, I gave small skeptical servings, and I was surprised when everyone wanted more. Mr. Zen pointed out that the nectarine had a strong flavor, but that just the right amount had been used. Even to his own surprise, he liked the sangria flavored with rum best, but Mrs. Zen preferred the brandy. I liked the rum, and my parents were split.
Mr. Zen finished his second glass and munched on some of the fruit and said, "I think you put more than an inch of rum in here." I'd intentionally poured it on first so that it would soak into the fruit and use the alcohol most effectively. And it worked! The sangria even earned its place next to the wine at dinner.
I'm going to work on a clear recipe, hopefully using apples and pears, which will soon be in season. I think sangria is underestimated by wine snobs when it shouldn't be, because you can still enjoy the flavor of the wine, simply enhanced by fruit and well-chosen liquor.