Sangria – it’s not just for summer anymore! Just a hint of the holidays transforms this party favorite into a welcoming winter libation for making much merry.

Sweet Red Sangria

Here we come a sangria-ing!

Most of us pull out crockpots this time of year to keep mulled wine or hot apple cider warm and waiting for visitors and party guests to enjoy, but this iced, Sweet Red Sangria is a refreshing alternative that has all the seasonal flavors without all the hassle (or the hot flash, if, like me, you live somewhere holiday guests may be wearing Bermuda shorts instead of sweaters).

We’ll just need to infuse a fruity, spicy red wine with winter fruits, cinnamon, and apple cider to put a lovely Spanish spin on our winter festivities!

Sangria has its roots in Portugal and Spain and gets its name because of the deep red color (sangria comes from the Spanish word for blood, sangre).

Sangria is actually served year-round in Spain, especially in the warmer regions, and it’s typically used as a party punch (at the big-kids’ table, of course).

Traditional sangria is “aromatized” red wine, with added fruit (especially citrus), sugar or simple syrup, and a spirit such as brandy or Cointreau. It’s sometimes topped off with soda water for a fizzy kick.

The “aromatics” we’ll use in my Sweet Red Sangria are classics during the holidays: cinnamon sticks and orange slices. You’ll want to leave the peel on for these since it’s full of essential oils that really help diffuse the wonderful citrus flavor throughout the wine, plus the beautiful orange color is hard to beat.

We’ll also add some chopped apples for colorful accents and additional sweetness.

I like to use red and green apples to keep with the Christmas theme, but I also use a sweet variety (the Honeycrisp) as well as a tart, slightly acidic one (the Granny Smith) to complement each other in flavor as well as hue. Sometimes it’s hard for me to find Honeycrisp apples, and when I do, they can be a bit of a wallet-drainer.

Definitely splurge on them if you can since the flavor’s really hard to beat, but a crisp Gala would be a good substitute.

Rather than orange juice, which is often used to dilute the wine in sangria, we’ll use apple cider. It accentuates the fruit that will already be macerating, plus it adds a deep apple flavor.

Apple cider is basically the “fresh squeezed orange juice” of the apple juice world. It’s usually unfiltered too, so there can be some lovely apple bits floating in it.

To make apple juice, they basically concentrate the cider, then rehydrate it, and we all know reconstituted juice is never as good as the original!

If you really want to up the apple flavor, you can even use apple brandy instead of a plain variety.

Cherry juice is another special touch to this sangria that obviously builds on the deep red color of this cocktail. It also adds sugar and cherry flavor, rather than just using plain simple syrup. By the way, definitely use a sweet cherry juice rather than a tart one unless you want to add a lot more sugar!

You may not have cherry juice on hand, but you’ll definitely want to buy it for this recipe. Leftovers work great splashed into champagne or mimosas. You can also freeze it in ice cube trays and drop cubes into lemonade or Coke (with or without the rum).

Sweet Red Sangria

This is a simple dump-and-stir kind of recipe, but this Sweet Red Sangria does need a while for the flavors to mingle. You don’t want to rush this process and miss out on all the fruity goodness in this delightful drink.

Every host or hostess loves things that can be made in advance, anyway, and this is definitely one you can – and should – make the night before a big party.

Just don’t make it too far in advance, though, because the wine will start to oxidize and the natural bitterness of the orange slices will start to leech out.

The only thing you’ll be adding at the last minute is the ginger ale, which makes it nice and bubbly without being overly sweet, plus adds a hint of another classic winter spice. I do prefer ginger ale to a stronger ginger beer here since the latter tends to overtake all the other flavors.

Make sure to pull out your clear glass pitchers for this one – it’s a cheerful cocktail and dazzling decoration all-in-one!

Recipe Notes:

Type of wine: Selecting a red wine can be a daunting task when you’re hosting a dinner party, but you actually don’t have to fret too much with this recipe. Sangria is pretty forgiving! You don’t want the most expensive, complex flavored wine here. You want light, low-tannin, low-acidity options. Rioja wines from Spain are traditional, which are typically aged for shorter amounts of time, and you can find those at most places with a decent wine selection. It’s sort of a cross between a cabernet sauvignon and a pinot noir. I suggest looking for a Tempranillo or Garnacha or even a Malbec.

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