Sangria May be Spanish But its Origins Echo the Ancient World

Photo by Frank Zhang on Unsplash
Of course I eat healthy…the fruit in my sangria is organic obviously. ~ someecards

Research the origins of a regional specialty and you are often led down a rabbit hole that stretches back centuries.

Take sangria.

Its origins are believed to go back thousands of years, and today it’s so popular around the world that back in 2014 the EU passed regulation to protect its status. This new regulation stipulates that sangria is a protected denomination from Spain and Portugal and defines sangria as “a drink obtained from wine, aromatized with the addition of natural citrus-fruit extracts or essences, with or without the juice of such fruit and with the possible addition of spices, sweetened and with CO2 added.”

An Ancient Drink That’s Still Relevant Today

So where and when exactly was sangria invented? Nailing that down gets tricky, but it’s believed that sangria, which is derived from sangre, which means “blood” in Spanish, has for centuries been made with Spanish red wine mulled by adding herbs, spices, fresh fruit, and whatever else was on hand.

And its origins are believed, to begin with the Phoenicians sometime between 1,000 and 500 B.C. In the ancient world, Phoenicians were prolific traders and winemakers and introduced grapes and viticulture to every culture they encountered along their trading routes.

In addition to wine and viticulture, the Phoenicians also introduced the practice of adding wine to water to make it a more potable drink and then they added herbs, spices, and fruit to make it more palatable.

Later on, sometime around 200 B.C., the Greeks, followed by the Romans, invaded Spain and introduced new grapes and viticultural improvements and most likely the first recipes for sangria. No one knows for sure what the first sangria recipe included, but this recipe for spiced wine from the ancient Roman cookbook titled “De Re Coquinaria” bears a close resemblance to spiced wines that were served and later became popular in the Middle Ages.

As trade routes expanded around the globe during the Middle Ages, the use of sugar (exclusively for the rich), honey (for the poor), imported fruit, and rare and exotic spices became more common and were soon incorporated in fermented and distilled medicinal digestif-style drinks called hippocras, which were prepared by doctors and apothecaries.

Often served before or after a meal, hippocras could contain as many 20 different herbs and spices such as bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, caraway, cloves, etc.and the drinks were believed to aid in digestion and were a cure for host of other ailments — and it’s most likely this recipe is the foundation for what eventually became sangria.

Sangria Takes New York City by Storm

So how the heck did this drink become so popular in America and around the world? Not all food historians agree about sangria’s earliest arrival in America, but we have documented proof it was a huge hit with thousands of Americans who visited the restaurants at the Spanish Pavilion during the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City.

At the time, America’s post-Prohibition wine industry was in its naissance so consumers were primed for something new to drink — and sangria was easy to like. From the first sip, we were hooked and it didn’t take long for this tasty new wine-based punch to be adopted at restaurants in New York and then later around the U.S. and the rest of the globe.

But no one has embraced sangria with the same fervor as Americans. Everyone, from home cooks, to bar owners, bartenders, and restaurant owners seems to have an insatiable thirst for sangria and a quick Google search reveals thousands of recipe variations featuring red, white, fortified, sparkling, dessert, and rosé wines along with spirits, spices, and all sorts of fresh and puréed fruits.

For me, nothing says summertime fun like a table spread with tapas plates and large pitchers of cold, fruity sangria, and one of my favorite recipes is for puréed berry sangria. Try it and see if you don’t agree it’s delicioso.

¡Salud!