Wine / Discovering the secrets of sangria

“Oh, goodness, it’s filled with ice and does indeed taste delicious, but all the flavours aren’t registering,” writes wine columnist RICHARD CALVER, stumped by the secrets of sangria

IT’S a cold Saturday night and the usual trouble in finding a restaurant that offers gluten-free fare is once more confronted.

We wander and stumble across a Mexican restaurant in Kingston, Ciscos; the stumbling is metaphoric, no drinking yet. The options for those afflicted with gluten intolerance are many on the displayed menu posted in the window. We enter. We order and my son, the afflicted, orders a dish that he raves about. I’m underwhelmed.

Richard Calver.

We order a glass of sangria each. For my son, it is the icing on the Mexican cake. For me it is the coup de gras, a mercifully delivered blow to a culinary disappointment.

My son says: “Hmm, this is a delicious drink, but I have only had a sangria made with white wine before. I really like it with red wine. Is that usual? You know about these things.”

But I don’t. My thin veneer of expertise evaporates. I have no idea.

I say: “I have no idea.”

The conversation moves on. I drink more sangria. The brain cells, despite the alcohol, remember Spain. There’s fruit, definitely orange, soda water or only lightly sweetened lemonade I think, and a wine and a hint of spice I can’t discern. Oh, goodness, it’s like a mulled wine, something I recently wrote about. But it’s filled with ice and does indeed taste delicious, but all the flavours aren’t registering.

On the return to home, I consult Dr Google. A website I have looked at in the past,, confirms my ruminations: the famous Spanish drink is basically just a punch that can be made with red or white wine as one of its bases or even Cava, sparkling Spanish wine.

The website tells me that this concoction is typically created from red wine, fruit juices, soda water, fruit and sometimes brandy. The advice given is that if you are making your own sangria use a good-quality wine and, if at all possible, let it chill overnight to intensify the flavours when the fruit and wine are left to confront each other.

My further searching shows that Jamie Oliver has a number of sangria recipes and videos, none of which I watch. But his ubiquity and the ability to take traditional recipes and make them his own is displayed in what I read: his recipe features watermelon, rum, lime and prosecco. The use of ingredients that seem very far removed from tradition shows me that I will not know what was in the drink I tasted unless I ask.

So, I call the restaurant and speak with a charming woman called Keely: she tells me the four principal ingredients are dry red wine, orange juice, cinnamon syrup and lemonade. Oranges are added on serving.

“The success is that the owners have been making it for a long time and they know their customers,” she says. “There’s no other secret.”

I’m gobsmacked that I couldn’t taste the cinnamon but don’t beat myself up about a lack of knowledge about something so basic. I take a deep breath and realise that Socrates knew his stuff: “Education is the kindling of a flame not the filling of a vessel”. But fill up my vessel with sangria again…

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