Summer is officially here and what better way to kick off the season than with a glass of beautiful, chilled sangria? The popular wine punch is drunk in sidewalk cafes, backyard patios and restaurants throughout Spain and Portugal and, as mixologist Jose Torrella says, was first invented as a creative, refreshing way to use casks of red wine leftover from winter.
“It’s popular after a bull fight, which many think explains its name – sangre, or in English, blood,” says Torrella, who was born in Valencia, Spain and now is the head mixologist at The Barclay Bar at the InterContinental New York Barclay. “But despite the name, it’s perfect for sipping throughout the summer, refreshing and always delicious.”
Sangria is the perfect cocktail, as far as Torrella is concerned. It’s simple in its composition, open to a number of variations, and of course, is an enjoyable way to pay homage to his country. Born into a family of restaurateurs, bar owners and butchers, Torrella moved to New York City from Spain at just five years old. He enrolled in New York University with the aspiration of becoming a dentist, all the while working as a bar back at the legendary Barclay Bar in his 20s in order to pay his tuition bills.
“I worked days and nights trying to achieve my American Dream,” says Torrella, who eventually switched majors and worked as a paramedic for seven years with the New York Fire Department before accepting the position of head mixologist at The Barclay Bar. “I never thought that back then that I’d be able to work my way up and fulfill my passion of creating drinks that have the potential to make someone smile and really enjoy themselves.”
And that’s exactly what he does with his stunning sangria. His version is an elegant take on the classic red wine punch, elevated with the addition of Calvados, a French-apple flavored brandy. The bar prides itself on offering more than 70 different kinds of the brandy, and Torrella says adding the liquor to the punch boosts its apple flavor and makes the cocktail truly shine. It’s one of Torrella’s secrets to making the perfect sangria. He also suggests muddling the lemons, oranges and apples in order to release their juices before adding the rest of the ingredients and letting the concoction sit in the fridge for three hours at least to allow the full-fruit flavors to develop.
“The Spanish are known for working really hard but we love our time for relaxation, family and friends,” says Torrella, who will reach for a pitcher of sangria during his downtime this summer. “Watered down wine with sliced fruit sitting on top isn’t a true representation of the joy a delicious glass represents.”
Don Jose Red Sangria
1 Lemon, cut into small pieces with peel
1 Orange, cut into small pieces with peel
1 Red Apple, cored, and cut into chunks
6 Tbsp white sugar
2oz Pere Magloire Fine Calvados
1 bottle Merlot wine
Gently muddle fruit in punch bowl or pitcher. Add sugar, Cointreau, Calvados and Merlot. Stir. Garnish with one orange slice and one red apple slice.