Red wine rarely comes to mind when summer temperatures reach scorching heights; yet Iberians across the Peninsula have always devised ingenious ways to add it to every drink!
Let’s take Spain as an example…
Anyone who’s visited Spain – and wanted to go deeper into the culture than the superficial “Sangria, Playa and Paella” experience – has probably heard of the most basic of these mixes, the Tinto de Verano. This “Summer Red” (a mix of 1/3 red wine – locals use younger and fruitier styles like “vino del año” or “cosechero”- 2/3 sweet soda water, served in a tall glass filled to the brim with ice cubes) has multiple regional variants: “Rebujito” a Fino Sherry and 7-up mix popular in Andalucía; “Pitilingorri” (basque for “a little red”) a mix of rosé wine and orange soda preferred in Alava, La Rioja and Navarra; or “Calimocho”, a mix of red wine and cola that has been the drink of choice for decades in Spanish street parties. The secret to all of these is to use plenty of ice and a standard proportion of 1/3 wine to 2/3 mixer. The idea is to have something refreshing as well as to get a little buzz, not to pass out on the beach and get a blistering sunburn. (Flickr photo by Divya)
Enhancing wine with other flavors is nothing new. The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans did it with local ingredients like fruits, herbs and spices, to suit their particular tastes and it’s been done ever since. Growing up in Rioja, I acquired a taste for one of the the local formulas, “zurracapote”, early on. Come September and the celebration of the region’s harvest festival, many Riojanos prepare this drink and share it with their neighbors during these fiestas. The recipe is simple and can yield slightly more powerful drinks than your basic wine cocktail, as it involves the addition of sugar and a short maceration, which will enhance the body and volume of the resulting potion. The original recipe is as obscure as the drink’s origin, yet so popular, every family will have a secret ingredient that makes theirs the best. Below, the basic ingredients and procedure.
- 2 bottles of young Rioja
- 1 cup of water
- 8 oz. Sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 lemons
- Empty the two bottles of wine (young and fruity Rioja red or Rioja rosado work best) into a large beverage container. Heat water and sugar in a pot removing constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Add the resulting syrup to the wine. Squeeze the lemons and add the juice to the mixture. Retrieve lemon peels and cinnamon stick and wrap in a cheesecloth and use it as a makeshift teabag. The trick is to infuse overnight, so remember to prepare it the day before. To serve your "Zurracapote", pour over a large glass full of ice and garnish with a slice of lemon.
The truth is you will rarely see it served like this in Rioja. The locals will chug it in skin “botas” and show off their prowess wielding it high in glass “porrones”. I, on the other hand, have a newfound respect for the drink and think it deserves gentrification. In retrospect, my first experiences drinking wine in a casual and fun environment involved “zurracapote”, and I realize to what extent it has played a part in exposing me to what has today become my favorite drink.
Some wineries have grasped this idea and are selling wine to the newer generations using its versatility as a base drink for a wide array of cocktails. This unpretentious approach would have been unthinkable only 10 years ago, when the industry focused on product attributes like place, process and tradition. Nevertheless, today its a trend that’s being embraced and is changing consumers attitudes towards the category.
My recommendation is that you experiment with different combinations of fruit and wine to come up with your own formula. The idea is to make it fun and stay refreshed! That said, if you’re keen for some recommendations on where to taste some old school Spanish cocktails, drop us a line! We have heaps of expert cocktails guides to give you the grand tour of mixed drinks in Spain.