The Best Wines for Sangria, According to Our Wine Expert
Making a sublimely refreshing pitcher of sangria is my all-time favorite party trick. No matter if the result is bubbly, white, lightly sweet (or all three), sangria is one of those drinks that begs one to say, “Oh, this ol’ thing? I just whipped this up.” It makes an already easy-drinking bottle of wine even more drinkable, but there’s often one puzzling step in the way: picking out the perfect bottle of wine.
Navigating the wine aisle in general can often feel like you’re trying to reach Mordor without a map. But it doesn’t have to be! In my heart of hearts, everyone can be equipped with just a few tips to confidently walk into their favorite wine shop/grocery store to grab a solid bottle that’ll be the base for a crisp, fruity sangria.
Luckily, I’ve had my fair share of wines over the years. As a wine buyer for Trader Joe’s I’ve sampled upwards of 150 different bottles from those shelves alone, and have a few tricks up my sleeve for picking out the best one for your next pitcher of sangria. Spoiler alert: You do not need to spring for that fancy, pricey bottle of vino, either.
Which Wine Is Best for Sangria?
If you’re new to making sangria, it’s time to get acquainted. A companion to tapas and happy hours the world over, sangria can be roughly broken down with some simple math: Red or white wine + sweetener + chopped fruit + optional added liquor and/or bubbles. Like many other cocktails, sangria really shines when things are kept ultra simple. Truth be told, there isn’t an end-all, be-all for which wine to grab for sangria, but there are a few things to keep in mind on your way to greatness.
When it comes to building your sangria, you’re going to want to pay attention to the sweetness factor of the wine you’re choosing. With many opportunities for sweetness, a dry medium-bodied wine is going to be your BFF. Love a big, bold, and oaky Cabernet? Save it for another time. This is not the time for a wine that’s competing for your attention (or with all your mix-ins).
When in doubt, stay mainly in Spain, where sangria traditionally hails from. A traditional Spanish red wine with plenty of backbone and a hint of spice (like Garnacha, Tempranillo, or a Rioja blend) will always lead you to a supremely balanced glass of red sangria. Campo Viejo offers all three of these classic varieties that are all delicious on their own and easy to grab at most grocery stores, too.
If you’ve got a middle-of-the-road “house” red you always keep on hand (think: something that’s easy-drinking with most meals or that you break out when a guest comes over), you’re likely already halfway to a good sangria. No grocery run needed! Personally, a $7 to $10 bottle of a Red Blend, Merlot, Zinfandel/Primitivo, or even Sangiovese will not let you down here. If you’re reading this from the wine aisle at Trader Joe’s (hi!), be sure to pick up the following MVPs: La Sonriente Garnacha, Porta 6 Tinto, and Corvellia Zinfandel.
What About White Wine?
No matter what style of sangria you’re making, a middle-of-the-road wine (both body-wise and in terms of sweetness/dryness) is the path to take here to really make all the fruity flavors sing, while keeping the refreshment factor at volume 12. So it goes without saying that the same rules absolutely apply to white wine or bubbly. Nothing too sweet, please, but do feel free to have a little fun! There are plenty of delicious (and often overlooked!) white wines that should surely be on your sangria radar.
Albariño is a light, fruity, beach-ready Spanish white wine that’s easy to find at the grocery store and makes you wonder how a little salt spray got into the bottle. New York Times Cooking’s recipe for Sangria Compostela has yet to let me down and really lets the Albariño shine with rosemary sprigs and apples. My favorite? The Neboa Albariño, which is well-worth the slightly above-$10 price.
Want something a bit surprising? Torrontés is for you. It’s an easy-breezy, floral white wine from Argentina that’s packed with tropical fruity flavors. I’m a big fan of the ultra-affordable Tilia Torrontes; it’s aromatically herby and zesty and ideal along with slices of oranges, peaches, and/or mangoes.
Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio
Feel free to break out your bottles of tropical, tart, floral and herby white varietals like Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio here, too — they’ll be very happy in a white wine sangria, as will these steals you can grab at Trader Joe’s: Mbali Chenin Blanc-Viognier, KONO Sauvignon Blanc, Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio.
Before You Make Your Next Batch of Sangria, a Few Tips
Sangria is the ultimate riff-able cocktail, but there are some things to keep in mind as you tinker with your ideal combo.
- Follow this formula. Most sangria recipes can be broken down as wine + chopped fruit + liquor (like triple sec, Brandy, Cointreau) and often a sparkling and/or sugary beverage (like soda water, fruit sodas, or even sparkling wine).
- To me, sangria should be as easy to make as it is to drink. Traditional Spanish sangria is maybe the best (and easiest) place to start. I’m a big fan of the combination of Rioja, chopped apples and blood oranges, and San Pellegrino Aranciata soda.
- Consider how you carbonate your sangria. Club soda has salt in it, which will affect the taste and texture of your final product. Opting for plain soda water or a good-quality orange soda (like San Pellegrino or Orangina) will keep your sangria ultra-refreshing if you go the bubbly route. Adding sparkling wine? Dry sparkling wines like a Brut Champagne, Prosecco, or Cava can handle any additional sweeteners you’ll add to your sangria, so they’re always a solid choice.
- Sip to see if your wine is “dry.” Because some fruitier dry wines will often seem a bit sweet on your tastebuds, do a quick taste-test: Does a sip make your tongue feel like the moisture has been scraped clean? Or does it lazily stick to the sides of your glass after you sip? Chances are, if it’s easy to drink on its own for most people in your group, it’ll be an even bigger crowd-pleaser in sangria.
What’s your go-to wine when making sangria? Tell us in the comments below.