Sangria is a favorite drink of mine for parties. Sweet and easy to drink, it is versatile and works for just about every occasion. It also happens to be very easy to make. My Easy Sangria is a simple recipe that never lets me down – and I pretty much always have ingredients to make it on hand in my kitchen. Because it takes very little time to put together, it is perfect for entertaining, since it looks (and tastes) impressive but easily fits into any party prep schedule.
Start your sangria with inexpensive red wine. Something like Charles Shaw from Trader Joe’s works perfectly. It doesn’t really matter what the wine tastes like (as long as it isn’t spoiled) because you’re adding fruit juice and sugar to sweeten it up, so any subtleties of the wine itself are pretty much lost by the time you’re doing. I like to go for a cheap Shiraz, as they tend to be bold and fruity and make a good base for sangria in general, although anything will work.
To the wine, you add sugar and fresh orange juice, as well as plenty of chopped of oranges and apples. Stir everything together and your sangria is ready to go. You can drink it right away, but sangria always tastes best when it is well-chilled and the flavors do get even better as the sangria rests in the fridge, so I recommend chilling your batch for at least a couple of hours for the best results. If you want to make it a little bit boozier and highlight the orange even more, you can add in a generous splash of Cointreau to your batch.
I like to keep the pieces of fruit small. They will pick up a lot of the flavor of the sangria and will be very tasty after the drink has sat in the fridge for a few hours. Small pieces are also easier to pour out into individual glasses, which means that everyone will get some delicious “fruit salad” with their sangria.
It is easy to double or even triple this recipe if you need to serve a crowd. A big punch bowl can be a great alternative to a regular pitcher for serving. But I feel that I should emphasize that you don’t need a special occasion to enjoy a smaller batch of sangria. It keeps well in the fridge (and gets better with time), so you can enjoy a glass on a warm weeknight when you just want to unwind without needing to wait for a party to make some!
Starbucks is a coffee shop, so it was a surprise to me to learn that some of their locations are now serving wine in a program called Starbucks Evenings. As part of the program, these stores serve a variety of wines and small plates dishes after 4pm. The idea is that many customers already come to Starbucks to relax and unwind with coffee, but that some people might like to have the option of getting a glass of wine and a snack (the full coffee menu is still available) instead of heading to a bar or a full restaurant in the evening. At the moment, there are only a handful of stores located in Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, Portland and in Dulles Airport in Washington DC. There are also two stores in the LA area and one of them happens to be just a short drive away from me, so I decided to head over and check out the concept to see what it was like.
At first, it looked like a normal Starbucks – until I noticed all the wine rack up where whole bean coffee bags are usually stored. The ordering process is just the same as with coffee drinks, where you order from the barista at the register and wait for someone to call your name to pick up your drink. The food takes a little more prep than the standard pastry case choices, so someone will bring any food you order over to your table when it is ready.
Robert Mondavi is one of the most recognizable names in Napa because the Mondavi family were pioneers in Napa valley wines. The Robert Mondavi Winery was founded in 1966 with the goal of producing wines in Napa that could rival anything produced in Europe. The wine culture at the time was small, but Mondavi persevered, along with other small and dedicated winemakers, until the the Napa Valley became the best known producer of wine in the United States. Mr. Mondavi passed away a few years ago, but he never stopped being passionate about wine and what he did. If you visit the Robert Mondavi Winery when you’re in Napa, you will definitely get a sense of the vision and drive that he had because many of the employees have been there for years and have personal stories about Mondavi that they are more than happy to share.
The California Mission-style arch that marks the entrance to the winery is iconic – and you will instantly recognize it when you see it in person because it appears on the labels of many bottles of Mondavi wine. You will have a few options when you visit, from a simple tasting to a full tour of the facility. I would highly recommend taking the tour, because Mondavi has some impressive and really state-of-the-art facilities that visitors can take a peek at and that you won’t be able to see many other places in Napa.
I started my most recent visit off with a drive through the nearly 500 acres of vineyards in Oakville known as To Kalon that surround the winery. These vineyards were originally planted in 1868 – so there is a tremendous amount of history on this site!
Luna Vineyards is one of the first wineries that you will come to as you leave Napa and head up the Silverado Trail, one of the two main roads running through the Napa Valley. The winery is beautiful, a recreated Tuscan villa surround by acres of vines growing primarily pinot gris grapes. Here, they specialize in Italian varietals and you’ll find wines like Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese on their wine list. This vineyard was founded in 1995 by George Vare and Mike Moone, wine industry veterans who saw a niche for some of these Italian-style wines in Napa. The vineyard’s name, Luna, is “moon” in Italian (it was inspired by founder Moone’s last name).
Paraduxx is a relatively small Napa winery that specializes in Napa Valley red wine blends. It is a subsidiary of Duckhorn Wine Company, a much larger brand, and although the Paraduxx blends have been produced for nearly two decades, their winery only opened in 2005 when they acquired some great vineyards on the Silverado Trail. Their wines are zinfandel-based, with other varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blended in to give the wines a bolder and more expressive flavor – but keep them feeling like they are from California.
For anyone who has never been wine tasting, let me just say that it is a fun experience. You don’t have to be a wine expert to enjoy it, either. You just have to come to the winery of your choice, take a seat and sample a few wines. You’ll probably find that you like some and don’t like others – and that is fine, because it is all part of the experience! My best advice is to have fun by trying to pick out the flavors in the tasting notes. Also, keep notes of what you do like so you can pick some up next time you’re out buying a bottle of wine – since after tasting a few wines (even if you “spit”), they can start to run together in your memory.