Sangria's a funny drink. It's often an excuse to drink cheap wine on ice when the weather's hot, but it usually comes packed with out-of-season apples and oranges, cut up like an elementary school soccer team's halftime snacks. The apples turn pink and sorta boozy; the oranges leave you with awkward rinds; and sticking your fingers in your glass to fetch that fruit gets your hands all sticky.
I'm here to tell you it doesn't have to be that way. Your sangria can be super flavorful without a fruit salad dumped into your wine glass. There will be no weird spices to chew on, no berry gunk in your teeth.
This sangria, inspired by the one served at Donostia, one of our favorite underrated bars in New York City, is rich and bold, almost like a chilled mulled wine. There are three parts to the secret: a slug of deeply fruity sweet vermouth, a potent syrup flavored with spicy ginger and green cardamom, and a pour of fresh orange juice that replaces those lame chunks of fruit in your pitcher.
At Donostia, they use Poor Man's Kitchen Cardamom Syrup to flavor the drink. And, as premade cocktail supplies go, that stuff is about as good as it gets. But I hate to tell you all to purchase an $18 bottle of syrup when you could very easily make your own version for a couple of dollars, and batch it together with the drink's most important component—a blast of fresh ginger—while you're at it.
The easiest way to juice ginger is to walk down to your local juice bar and buy some. The second-easiest way is to use a juicer, if you've got one. Don't have a juicer? No worries. You can chop the peeled fresh ginger roughly, then blend it with a little water using an immersion blender, straining it to yield all the liquid you need. It'll get warmed up with sugar just enough to get the sugar to dissolve, and then you'll toss in whole cardamom pods and let 'em steep so they give up their spicy flavor. It's great to do this part the night before you're planning to serve the sangria, to give the syrup as much time as possible to soak up the cardamom's flavor.
Then it's just a matter of filling your pitcher: You'll measure out red wine and top it with fresh orange juice and sweet vermouth. You can use whatever red wine you have on hand; a $12 Tempranillo is a decent bet. The sweet vermouth should be the good stuff—Carpano Antica Formula adds a ton of body and rich, complex flavor. Stir in the spicy syrup and serve in cups filled with ice. You may want to add a touch of fizzy soda if you like your sangria on the lighter side; I prefer it straight, no fruit-chunk chaser.