Why It Works
- This cocktail is packed with flavor, but not too much alcohol, making it ideal for pre-dinner sipping.
- Look for a bottle labeled "Malmsey" to get a Madeira with the proper level of sweetness.
- The drink is brightened by shaking the Madeira with ice, simple syrup, and fresh lemon juice.
Before the turkey arrives at the table, some folks serve oysters on the half shell, some serve pumpkin soup, and others offer deviled eggs. Some prefer to save their stomach space. But, appetizers or no appetizers, many of us start drinking long before the Thanksgiving meal begins, and there are many reasons to make this sangaree—a sweet-tart, caramelly, nutty, not-too-boozy cocktail—your signature Thanksgiving drink.
The recipe doesn't date to the 1600s, but it is an oldie, coming to us from Derek Salerno of Shagbark in Richmond, Virginia. When designing Shagbark's bar menu, Salerno was inspired by the mention of "Madeira wine made into Sangaree or Lemonade" that appeared in Thomas Jefferson on Wine. "A more iconic Virginian gourmand [than Jefferson] you are unlikely to find," says Salerno, so he began poking around old cocktail books and fiddling with formulas for this precursor to sangria as we know it.
The base of the drink may not be that familiar today, but in the colonial era, much of the wine in the US came from Madeira, a tiny island off the coast of Morocco. The spot was conveniently located for trade ships, and as their export business grew, Madeiran winemakers began to add brandy or other spirits to help their wine last through the long, hot voyage at sea. (For those curious about the history, I highly recommend checking out Serious Eater Robert F. Moss's new book, Southern Spirits.) If you've never tried Madeira—and you should!—this cocktail is an excellent place to start.
Most of its flavor comes from Malmsey, the sweetest of the range of single-grape Madeiras. (The label won't mention it, but Malmsey is made from malvasia grapes.) The wine's fermentation is stopped while there's still quite a bit of sugar in the mix. Here, the Madeira adds a walnut-like, toffee-laced character to the drink, and a full texture that doesn't require another spirit to bulk it up. Which is for the best if you want to start your drinking nice and easy.
If you're looking for a drier version of Madeira to sip on its own, go with Sercial or Verdelho. A wine labeled as Bual or Malmsey will be much richer, ideal for pairing with cheese or dessert.
Once you've got the Madeira in hand, just add a little fresh lemon and simple syrup to balance it out, then shake everything until well chilled. A grating of fresh nutmeg echoes the toasty, oxidative aromas of the fortified wine nicely. And, since there isn't, say, rum or whiskey in the mix, you can have a couple before your family shows up for the feast, and a few more once the turkey's on the table.
2 ounces (60ml) Malmsey Madeira (such as H. M. Borges Old Reserve Malmsey 10 Year or Blandy's 10 Year Malmsey)
1/2 ounce (15ml) simple syrup (see notes)
1/2 ounce (15ml) fresh juice from 1 lemon
Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish
Add Madeira, simple syrup, and lemon to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake until well chilled, about 12 seconds. Double-strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg and serve.
To make simple syrup, combine one cup water with one cup sugar in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Cool before using. Simple syrup will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to five days.
Cocktail shaker and strainer, fine strainer, chilled coupe glass
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 0g||0%|
|Saturated Fat 0g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrate 14g||5%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||0%|
|Total Sugars 11g|
|Vitamin C 6mg||30%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|