Sangria got a bad rap in the ‘70s and ‘80s thanks to college students who bought cheap jug wine, added in fruit of obvious age and questionable edibility, mixed it up with a bag of sugar and set it to percolate for three days – then served it in rented punch bowls at dorm parties as “sangria.” Real sangria, however, while made much the same way, starts with more quality ingredients. While often disdained by wine lovers as being little better than a spritzer or cheap apple or strawberry wine, good sangria is, well, good. Here are five places in Connecticut where the sangria is very good; so good that it is recommended as the wine pairing of choice to enhance the experience of select appetizers and desserts.
Barcelona Wine Bar
155 Temple St.
New Haven, CT 06510
Sangria is such an important part of the experience at New Haven’s Barcelona Wine Bar that it sells a special “sangria kit” to take home. Available from the bar’s Barcelona Marketplace on site or on line, the $19 the kit comes with “a beautiful ceramic pitcher, authentic olivewood mixing spoon and our award-winning recipe.” That recipe is indeed worthy of awards and is meant to go with tapas, as Tom, the assistant manager, explains. For those dining in, he recommends white sangria to go with the crispy calamari, fresh scallops or potato tortilla or a red to accompany the spiced beef empanadas or grilled hangar steak.
Soul De Cuba
238 Crown St.
New Haven, CT 06511
Sangria is a Spanish creation, but one designed with the hot breezy tropic isles of its imperial days in mind. Soul de Cuba has the perfect sangria to accompany its island cuisine. Whether having a simple Cubano sandwich or a plate of arroz con pollo, the sangria here washes it down quite nicely. Sangria is also available at the bar, which is built of layers of cigar boxes as an homage to the family’s homeland. Owner Jesus Puerto personally trains his kitchen staff to prepare recipes handed down by his grandmother, aunt and father, and instructs them to “keep in mind the spirit of our Cuban heritage.” One aspect of that heritage is the sangria, which uses less sugar and is less sweet than that at many other restaurants. The secret here is that it is prepared with fruit sliced in a manner meant to infuse the wine with its flavor and natural sweetness, rather than to be consumed as an alternative to dessert.
Ibiza Tapas Wine Bar
West Mill Plaza Shopping Center
93 Mill Plain Road
Danbury, CT 06811
Like the original location in Hamden, Ibiza Tapas Wine Bar prides itself on fine wines and on its fine Sangria. At $7.50 a glass or $18.00 a bottle, it is priced the same and even a little more than most of the other more traditional offerings from its cellar. Clearly this is not the poor relation or the peasant punch that Sangria is often denigrated as. At Ibiza it stands tall in the company of its fine Spanish, Italian, California, Chilean and Argentine cousins. Try it with desert, especially with the fried chocolate balls, the almond torta de Santiago or the torrija borracha, a caramelized bread pudding that is beyond compare.
350 Boston Post Road
Orange, CT 06477
Ola is a Mexican restaurant that makes Spanish sangria with Chilean wine. This is indeed the best of many worlds, and the sangria has to be if it is to compete with the mighty margarita that is the signature drink of this and so many other Mexican restaurants. Priding itself on a “Latin Fusion” or “Nuevo Latino” cuisine, as its owners call it, Ola makes a red sangria by combining a selection of Chilean wines with brandy and cointreau, into which apples and oranges are sliced. For the white sangria, the wines chosen are from Spain, and triple sec and peach schnapps are substituted for the brandy. Cointreau is added, as is a selection of fresh seasonal fruit.
Ballou’s Wine Bar
2 Sybil Ave. (Route 146)
Branford, CT 06405
Cucumber and melon are not the fruits normally associated with sangria, but they are de rigueur for the white sangria at Ballou’s Wine Bar in Branford. Designed to cool customers as they while away the summer heat by the shore, the sangria is meant to go with simple salads, light appetizers or desserts. For the “comfort food” on the menu, heartier red sangria is often recommended. Every item on Ballou’s extensive menu has a recommended pairing. The red sangria, for example, is listed as the perfect accompaniment to the Spinach and spicy cheddar fondue.
Mark G. McLaughlin is a professional and prolific writer with a proven publishing record in a wide variety of fields. An historian, novelist, freelance journalist, ghost-writer, book reviewer, magazine editor, web and magazine columnist, Mark has more than 30 years of experience. His work can be found at Examiner.com.