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The perfect summer drink

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Sangria, the unofficial national beverage of Spain, may very well be the perfect summer drink. More festive than beer, less punishing than a cocktail, and as companionable as iced tea or lemonade to summertime staples like barbecue and fried chicken, this fruity wine punch slakes summer thirst with style.

Originally conceived to mask the unsavory flavors in a batch of wine that was poorly made or had “gone off,” the classic, basic recipe is a combination of wine, juice, liqueur, fruit and sometimes soda, that lends itself gladly to infinite variations based on your menu, your preferences, and what you have on hand.

The premiere Little Rock destination for sangria has long been Ciao Baci, and not just because it’s one of the only places that makes it. Ciao Baci offers three versions — red, white, and champagne — built on a basic recipe of wine, triple sec, brandy, juice and fruit, and they offer it by the glass or by the pitcher. Of the three, the red is the classic, tasting like mellowed fruit punch; the white is the sweetest, as the lighter wine allows the fruit juice (in this case, pineapple) to come through loud and clear; and the champagne version is clean and crisp with the bite of bubbles.

Ciao Baci isn’t quite the only place in town to sip sangria. Rumor has it that Crush wine bar is considering a weekly sangria night, with house-made versions in both red and white. And if you’re feeling adventurous, many local Mexican restaurants offer a variation on sangria called “sangrita” — a margarita-sangria hybrid, in which a frozen margarita is swirled with red wine into a colorful parfait that tastes unlike either of its two components.

But the best thing about sangria may be how easy it is to make at home. A good basic recipe can be modified in myriad ways: use tequila instead of brandy to accompany a Mexican-themed meal; spice it up with a shot of hot sauce or by steeping red pepper flakes in the liqueur. A bonus: Once the wine is gone, the engorged fruit in the bottom of the glass makes a delicious high-octane dessert when served over ice cream. Soft fruits like peaches and plums are especially good for this.

Let this easy, reliable recipe be your diving board:

1 750 ml. bottle of dry red or white wine

1/2 cup brandy

1/2 cup Cointreau or triple sec

1 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed is, as always, best)

1 lemon, sliced

1 lime, sliced

1 orange, sliced

1 peach, peeled, pitted, and cut into small pieces (or other fruit; optional)

1 cup lemon-lime soda (optional)

Mix all ingredients (except soda, if using) and chill. If using soda, add just before serving to preserve the fizz. (Same goes for champagne.) This recipe makes about 8 servings, and can be doubled or tripled easily by maintaining the wine-liqueur-juice ratio.

— Katherine Whitworth

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