Troy Sidle takes a long sip of the drink he just made and pauses a moment before rendering judgment: "This is definitely . . . Taylor Swift." Mission accomplished.
The New York City-based bartender and bar designer takes his sangria seriously and has special pride in the pink variety (see the recipe). "Sangria means 'bloodletting,' and it's usually dark, rich and red with fruit and other flavor components, but with rosé, it's like unicorn blood," he jokes.
The construction of sangria is pretty simple: a great (but not pricey) wine, fresh fruit, a spirit, some type of sweetener and a bitter component for balance. Put those elements together, let them sit for a while, and no one is going to complain. "It's challenging to make an excellent sangria, because an average sangria is still pretty good," he notes, but with a little bit of effort and craft, it can transform into a beautifully balanced centerpiece for warm-weather entertaining. And that's where Taylor Swift comes in.
Sidle likes to think of his bar as a music mixing board. On one end are the components with "big, bass-thumping qualities that if you poured an ounce, your hair would blow back." He means Angostura bitters, dark rums, gentian and cloves. On the other, orange-flower water and rosewater with "very floral, ephemeral top notes" closely followed by fresh citrus peel, St-Germain and maraschino liqueur. In the middle: gin, with whiskey to one side and pear brandy to the other.
When he's making a rosé sangria, he knows it's going to start out on the treble side because of the light wine and citrus peel, and to balance out the potential tinniness, he needs some bass, which comes in the form of bitter, fruit-forward Campari. Not only do the flavors harmonize beautifully, "Everything stays nice and pink, so you stay true to the color of the rosé."
And that pink doesn't mean it's lightweight, Sidle says. "There's a spectrum for all of it. This is Taylor Swift. This is great. Am I going to contemplate the inner workings of the harmonic structure of this? This isn't Miles Davis, but it's not bubblegum either. I don't feel like I'm drinking something that's cloyingly sweet and overly saccharine. I think Taylor Swift's interesting, too. So there's that."
Once the ingredients are in place, a little fine-tuning can really make them sing. For Sidle, this means a little extra effort on the fruit front. Though it's par for the course to pop in big rind-on wedges and cubes, he takes the time to "fillet" citrus peels, using only the flavorful, oil-rich outer parts with as much bitter pith scraped off as possible, and removes the hull from the center of strawberries, so only the most delicious parts remain. The difference is palpable over the course of the next few days as the mixture macerates in the refrigerator.
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Though it's fine to serve sangria straight away (just leave it at room temperature for a few hours, if you can wait that long), Sidle says it is worth your while to let it chill out. "During the first few days of a sangria sitting, everything goes really well. There's a bell curve. As soon as you make it, it tastes like delicious wine with stuff in it. The second day, it just gets better. Then by the third day, everything's great." After that, it takes a little bit of tending.
Sidle advises tasting it to see if it could stand a little sweetness, a bitter note or some extra wine to brighten it up and keep the party going. "You can keep sangria as long as it tastes good. I've had some sangrias that start going south at four or five days and others that just start shining at about two weeks. As long as you keep adding citrus to give it that nice bright quality, you can keep it around for a pretty good while."
When it's finally time to serve it, Sidle believes that carefully crafted rosé sangria deserves one extra little grace note in the form of flavored ice. Not only does it keep the drink optimally chilled, it offers an extra pop of color and dilutes the high proof of the drink, while not watering down the flavor.
No bad blood here.
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