Sangria. (Leela Cyd / July 24, 2014)

There is no doubting the power of sangria. Pull a pitcher from the fridge as party guests arrive and no one needs much encouragement to start pouring glasses. It feels fancy and instantly festive, but sangria is also one of the easiest big-batch cocktails you can make. For the party host, it's a no-brainer.

There are all sorts of fun recipes for sangria out there, but what most hosts need is a handy classic. What follows is a short primer on how to make a perfect red wine sangria that's sure to be a hit at your next summer gathering.

The first question to consider is what wine to use. The primary qualification is quite simple: it should be cheap! Any red wine that you enjoy drinking is a good candidate, and it shouldn't be expensive. In our recipe we use an inexpensive Rioja from Spain, but you could also use malbec or merlot for a sweeter result.

Most sangria recipes call for the wine to rest overnight, or at the very least for a few hours in the refrigerator. This lets the fruit infuse the wine, letting its juices get in the mix and sweeten up the drink. In our opinion, the sweetness in sangria should come from the fruit itself, and perhaps the wine, but not from a soda like 7-Up. (If you like your sangria to be sweeter, try substituting tonic water for the soda water.)

You won't get this lovely, fruity sweetness unless the sangria has a period to rest in the fridge. If you taste the sangria just after mixing it, you'll probably think it tastes harsh or unbalanced. After a night in the fridge, it will taste mellow and juicy. Sangria gets better and better as it sits.

Basic Sangria

Serves 6 to 8.

2 oranges

2 apples

1/2 cup brandy

1/4 cup orange liqueur, such as Cointreau

1 (750-ml) bottle red wine

2 to 3 cups sparkling water, chilled


Chef's knife

Cutting board

Measuring cups