Sangria has roots that go as far back as man’s relationship with wine. An interesting path took wine on a journey from just being wine to the tasty drink we enjoy today called Sangria. Wine really has a long history and Sangria history is an offshoot worth exploring in our Sangria series. Today, we are going to look at Sangria history and the past of this delicious wine drink.
What is Sangria?
If you haven’t had Sangria before, you are missing out. It is a wine based product, often fortified with brandy or another spirit, and contains sugar and other fruits. It is often associated with Spanish origin and was one of the main drinks I had on my visit to Spain. While the US does not have legal standards for the drink, the EU does. It is defined as follows (source):
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, having an acquired alcoholic strength by volume of less than 12 % vol. The drink may contain solid particles of citrus-fruit pulp or peel and its colour must come exclusively from the raw materials used. The description ‘Sangria’ must be accompanied by the words ‘produced in . . .’ followed by the name of the Member State of production or of a more restricted region except where the product is produced in Spain or Portugal. The description ‘Sangria’ may replace the description ‘aromatized wine-based drink’ only where the drink is manufactured in Spain or Portugal. Council Regulation (EEC) No 1601/91 of 10 June 1991.
While Sangria is more often a red wine drink, white can be used. A variety of fruits can be used for Sangria. One thing I noted in Spain is that so many places had their own recipe for Sangria. Restaurants would have it sitting on the bar with a big container of wines and fruits.
I point to wine as being the main historical route that lead to Sangria, but there really are three main ingredients of Sangria that had to come together to make the classic drink. Sangria history is steeped in the ingredients of wine, sugar, and fruit.
Sangria History and Wine
The most obvious component of Sangria is wine. While there is definately some room for variation on all of the other ingredients, there is no Sangria without wine. While one could make a Sangria with a different sweetener and a plethora of fruits, wine must be an ingredient, so the history of wine is forever tied to the history of Sangria.
Wine really has a history that goes almost as far back as agriculture. There is evidence of a wine like product being consumed as far back as 7000BC in China. Additionally, evidence of the first winery goes as far back as 4100 BC.
By medieval times, wine was widely available. I went into this topic thinking that people in medieval times drank wine and beer instead of water, for concerns of safety. Apparently, that is a myth. There may have been the thought that wine and beer was healthier than water, but that is a different proposition than saying that water was not safe. So, people likely drank wine and beer because they thought it was a healthy alternative to water. Additionally, it was available, so why not get your historical drank on?
Sangria History and Sugar
You can’t talk about the history of Sangria without talking about sugar and sweeteners. Perhaps we take for granted that we can just hop down to the grocery store and pick up 20 pounds of sugar. That was not always the case. Prior to sugar, honey was the main source of sweetener for mankind. We likely ate honey before we even evolved into humans, as chimpanzees do today.
While sugar is widely available today and easy for anybody to get, that was not always the case, particularly in Europe. After mankind started processing sugar cane (likely in southeast Asia and India) into the white sugar we know today, it started being traded. Come the 11th century, a person could get sugar in Europe, but it was a rich man’s product. Not enough was made and it had to make a long journey to get to Europe.
We have written about sugar history about this before (in our Mojito series and a few other times) and sugar really started to take off as a commodity when sugarcane started being grown in the Caribbean. Production started exploding and trade was established with the New World.
By the 1700s, sugar was widely available in Europe at reasonable prices.
Sangria and the History of Fruit
This is probably the most nuanced historical component to the Sangria. I mean, the recipe is very forgiving when it comes to what kind of fruit to use, but history does play a role in this. As we covered in our history of the greyhound, modern sweet oranges were not available in Europe until the 1400s. Some of the most common fruits in sangria are oranges.
The role of fruit is an important component of Sangria history.
Sangria History And Its Predecessors
We have tracked the ingredients of Sangria and now we will try to track the drink history a little better. The history of the drink is tied to the history of the components, but also has it's own interesting path. As mentioned, Sangria evolved from wine. The path, however, was not directly from wine to Sangria, but more a migration. Here is what I found about this winding story.
It seems that humans did what humans do and just started adding stuff to wine. Hippocras was born. Hippocras was a spiced and sweetened wine that could have been served warm or cold. Any sort of spice or flavorful stuff could have been added. It was filtered through a filter named “the sleeve of Hippocrates”, hence the name. The name of this drink comes from the bag that the drink was filtered through. Hippocras appears to be the grandfather of both Sangria and Mulled wine.
Sangaree appears to be an evolution of Hippocras, but a precursor to Sangria. Mentions go as far back as 1731. What is particularly interesting is that I found several mentions of this being a West Indies (or Caribbean) drink. The tie into the sugar really starts to solidify with Sangaree. It also points to a trading path that could place this version of the drink into Spain.
If you go by mentions in books, Sangria doesn’t even make a blip until the early 1800s and even then, it was because of the Spanish translation of the word into bloodletting. Apparently, bloodletting became all the rage in the early 1800s and it had nothing to do with the drink. Hippocras does show as a drink more popular than sangaree at one point but quickly replaced by sangaree.
I think the most interesting thing by looking at the chart is where Sangria really does start taking hold. You can see legitimate blips of mentions of Sangria in the early 1900s, but in 1964, mentions takes off. In 1970, the popularity of Sangria mentions in literature surpasses Hippocrass and Sangria.
Spain and the Sangria Connection
Why is Spain important? Well, we have talked about the sugar connection, but there is a bit more than sugar. Oranges are an important product in Spain and were likely one of the first orange producers in the area. If you combine the trading routes with the addition of citrus fruits, we can approximate the time-place of Sangria to be in Spain… likely in the 1800s.
Wine, sugar, and citrus fruits all have a history that finds a story in Spain. This perfect alignment of the stars and ingredients is where Sangria was born.
World Fair of 1964
The World Fair of 1964 took place in New York. If you look at the chart previously mentioned, this is the year where Sangria started to catapult into popularity. Apparently, Sangrias were promoted and sold at this fair and introduced the drink to America. The media must have loved it, as the world embraced it from that time forward. Look at the graph. It is around this time that Sangria surpassed Sangaree and Hippocras.
I am sitting here right now sipping on a white Sangria that is divine. What a great drink. I think one of the things that makes it so great is that you don’t need to be pretentious to love Sangria. Nobody is taking a sip of Sangria, gurgling it in their mouth, and then spitting it into the tasting spitoon. It is a reachable drink by anyone and there are very few wrong ways to make a Sangria. One of the beautiful things I loved about Spain was trying the Sangria that each place served! I hope you have enjoyed this Sangria history exploration and learned as much as I did. I certainly found a new appreciation for the drink. Sign up to get updates by email if you enjoyed this article.