San Gria: Spain's patron saint of hangovers

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Most sangría is not meant for human consumption. Rather, it is intended to punish British tourists for their nation’s occupation of Gibraltar. Mexico has Montezuma’s Revenge; Spain has sangría.


Most sangría is not meant for human consumption.  Rather, it is intended to punish British tourists for their nation’s occupation of Gibraltar.  Mexico has Montezuma’s Revenge; Spain has sangría.

To understand sangría, we must look at it from two different angles:  the theory, and the reality.

In theory, sangría is a fruity, moderately sweet, pleasingly alcoholic, warm-weather drink.  Red wine, citrus, sugar, spice and an extra boost of alcohol are artfully combined, chilled until ice-cold, and served in a goblet.  A good sangría should be a well-balanced drink that is not too sweet, not too spicy, and certainly not watery or fizzy. 

But alas, theory and reality diverge radically.  The sangría served at many bars and restaurants in Spain (and abroad!) is blasphemous.  There are countless ways to ruin sangria, but some are more common than others. 

For starters, many bars and restaurants use—as the base for sangría—the cheapest wine in their inventory.  This is significant, since wine is, by far, sangría’s main component.  Some places go a step further, by using the remains of unfinished wine bottles retrieved from tables after the patrons have left.  I’m not joking.  I’ve witnessed it first-hand.

Then comes the fruit.  Bar/restaurant sangría often resembles a well-moistened fruit salad.  Restraint, gentlemen!  Let’s use restraint!  If you need to chew it, it’s not a good sangría.  If you find yourself reaching for a fork, then trust me…it’s not a good sangría. 

Then comes the liquid embellishments—not that sangría needs any.  I’ve seen bartenders pour champagne, sparkling water, and—most shocking of all—Sprite (FOR GOD’S SAKE!) into their alleged sangrías.  Can you imagine?!  Aside from watering it down, these additions make the sangría fizzy.   If I want fizz, I’ll order a gin and tonic.

Finally, comes the booze-booster.  Some places add brandy, Triple-Sec, vodka or rum to kick-up sangría’s alcohol-content.  It’s not the use of these liquors that I’m opposed to, but rather the quality.  A bartender won’t likely reach for top-shelf liquor.  Instead, he’s apt to grab a bottle with no label or – worse yet – one bearing the name of his liquor distributor’s mistress.  He’ll then attempt to smooth over any harshness by dumping a heaping scoop of sugar into the mix. 

And that, my friends, is the reality:  cheap wine, too much fruit, cheap booze, and lots of sugar.  No wonder sangría is often so bloody awful?  But here’s the irony:  Tourists LOVE the stuff! 

I see them sitting at outdoor tables—their sun-blistered noses peeling like iguanas beneath corporate-logo’d baseball caps—downing pitcher-after-pitcher as if there were no tomorrow.  And they would indeed be lucky if there were no tomorrow, because the tomorrow that awaits a sangría binge-drinker usually includes a Defcon-4 hangover. 

Yet despite my sarcasm, I should make one point clear:  I DO like sangría.  Very much so, in fact.  But I like it made MY way.  

My personal recipe for sangría is simple, brilliant and (I must mention) inspired by Winston Churchill’s personal recipe for a Dry Martini.  It’s been a closely-held secret since I first developed it in 1953…but today, I am going to disclose it for the benefit of vosotros…my expat family.


Step 1:  Pour a generous amount of good quality D.O. Toro red wine into a goblet.

Step 2:  Glance briefly at a bowl of fruit sitting on the countertop across the room.

Step 3:  Drink!

Sal DeTraglia  / Expatica 

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