Sunday, June 28, 2009

Grape Expectations

Warning: The following post might cause serious cocktail cravings. Feel free to preempt this side effect by grabbing your favorite summer sipper -- go ahead, I'll wait right here!

::Humming to self patiently::

Are you back? Okay, so let's talk about summer cocktails. When I was still a fairly newbee, I shared our plan to feature a Bruschetta favorite, Philly's own Bluecoat, in signature gin and tonics. Soon, the mister and I had added mojitos to the list to keep the g & ts company. After some brainstorming, one more quintessential summer potable popped into my head -- sangria!

We agreed that glasses of the red stuff, while delicious, might be hazardous in close proximity to one notable white dress, and promptly set out to find a suitable white wine sangria recipe. Almost as soon as I started my search, I was puzzled -- and a bit frustrated -- to find the same key fruity players in most recipes, including pears and apples. I'd been hoping to either slice and dice the sangria fruit several days before the wedding, outsource this job to some willing family members or convince our caterer to fit this task into his pre-wedding day preparations. But I couldn't fathom how to keep two fruits that oxidize in the blink of an eye fresh enough after a day or two for their starring role in our pipe dream sangria. (Although I considered lemon juice, I doubted the citrusy stuff's ability to work for more than a few hours.)

So when I sought white wine sangria recipes, I focused on well-behaved fruits that also wouldn't bust our budget. Cherries and strawberries would be delish, but we'd need a whole lotta these little guys once we quintupled a recipe -- and then we wouldn't be able to have our white wine sangria without ending up in the red. Honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon and grapes, though, made cameos in some of the recipes I located, and would be cost-efficient ingredients.

After a little creative mix and matching, we settled on a combination of melons and grapes in a fairly standard sangria concoction: Cointreau, brandy, white wine, sugar and club soda. I'm embarrassed to admit that the resulting beverage was...gross. Just not good. Cocktail FAIL. Sangria: 1, Miss Bruschetta: 0. I'd envisioned serving an impressively delicious, refreshingly summery and deceptively potent white wine-based beverage, and felt inadequate that a kitchen endeavor hadn't panned out.

With panic setting in, I thought wildly of the sangria served at Amada, one of our favorite restaurants in Old City. (Miss Snapdragon even featured it on our Philly map.) Simply put, it. is. perfection. How could I get my hands on what must surely be proprietary information?

The short answer? Ask for it. Mr. Bruschetta and I explained our quandary to the Amada hostess, who took down our email and promised that the Beverage Manager (um, yeah, can I please have that job?) would send along the red and white sangria recipes -- the seasonal selection (featuring watermelon and basil -- yum!) really is off-limits, as it's one of the restaurant's "hooks" to attract customers.

With my sangria-making record against me, I was nervous as I prepared this new recipe. Mama and Sister Bruschetta offered to come assist, and together, we chopped, stirred and mixed another batch of sangria fruit. And, after the fruit had macerated for close to 24 hours -- we were testing its longevity, and also hoping to optimize the flavors -- I completed the recipe. Mr. Bruschetta and I had the first taste...and it was so amazing Daddy, Mama, Sister and BIL Bruschetta came over a few hours later to help (nearly) polish it off!

[Insert huuuuge sigh of relief.]

Amada's sangria differs slightly from the unfortunate recipe I followed originally, but it's really so much better. Simple syrup seamlessly laces the wine and fruit with sweetness. After a quick citrus bath -- I rolled the small cubes of apples and pears in a bowl of freshly-juiced lemon -- the fruit has maintained its bite (and staved off the usual browning) 48 hours later. And this drink surprisingly packs quite a punch. (Yup, there's a lot of alcohol in this sangria, but its one of those drinks that really doesn't taste like it -- until you try to stand up after a glass...or start noshing on the liquor-soaked fruit!)

We still need to share the specifics with our caterer, but we're hoping he'll be on board with our oh-so-simple sangria. (Special thanks to Kevin Lundell and Amada Restaurant for the following amazing [and potent] recipes!)

Sangria Fruit

2 oranges, sliced into small wedges
2 pears, cut into small cubes
2 Granny Smith apples, cut into small cubes
6 oz. (3/4 cup) simple syrup*
6 oz. (3/4 cup) Triple Sec
4 oz. (1/2 cup) brandy

Macerate fruit pieces in syrup, Triple Sec and brandy (at least four hours, and preferably overnight). Keep covered and refrigerated until ready to serve. When finished, fruit should be "soupy" from the juices being drawn out.

* Equal parts water and sugar, boiled for five to seven minutes until sugar dissolves completely and syrup thickens slightly. Cool completely.

Amada House White Sangria -- Single Batch

1 750 ml. bottle dry white wine
4 oz. (1/2 cup) simple syrup
4 oz. (1/2 cup) brandy
2 oz. (1/4 cup) Cointreau
Optional garnish: sprig of fresh rosemary
(Although we didn't use rosemary in our recipe try-out, we would like to have the herb on hand at our reception, and give guests the option of including it in their sangria.)

Mix wine, simple syrup, brandy and Cointreau. This is the base wine product for the sangria. Keep refrigerated until serving.

Amada House Red Sangria -- Single Batch

1 750 ml. bottle dry red wine
6 oz. (3/4 cup) spiced simple syrup**
4 oz. (1/2 cup) brandy
3 oz. (3/8 cup) Cointreau
Optional garnish: cinnamon stick

Mix wine, simple syrup, brandy and Cointreau. This is the base wine product for the sangria. Keep refrigerated until serving.

** For 1 pint spiced syrup, use 2 cups each water and sugar. Boil until sugar dissolves and syrup thickens slightly. Stir in 3 cinnamon sticks, 8 allspice berries, 6 cloves, 10 black peppercorns, 1 tsp. red chile flakes and 3 whole star anise, remove from heat and allow to cool. Strain and use in sangria.

Serving Directions

Ladle 6-8 oz. of fruit and juices into a large pitcher. Fill with base wine product until almost full. Top with 4 oz. (1/2 cup) club soda and stir to combine. Ladle a small amount of fruit into ice-filled wine glasses. Pour in wine and garnish if desired.

We're super psyched about our trio of summery cocktails -- but I'd love to add a virgin option to the list as well. What's your favorite non-alcoholic summer beverage? (Feel free to link to a recipe!)

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