Pour, slice and stir A drink to beat the heat

Considering the important vintner fact that Spain is the third largest producer of wine in the world (behind France and Italy) and that the country is home to close to 50 percent of the European Union’s vineyards, I expected to return from my recent trip there with numerous wine recommendations to share.

I started my tour with the best intentions. I familiarized myself with Spanish geography so that I could fully appreciate the nuances between the many grape-growing regions and the diverse wines they create. I finally committed to memory the three important wine terms to know when reviewing a Spanish bottle: crianza (wines that age a minimum of two years before they are sold), tinto reserva (red wines that age a minimum of two years, one of which must be in oak barrels), tinto gran reserva (red wines that age a minimum of two years in oak barrels and three more in bottles) and blanco gran reserva (white wines that age a minimum of five years, with at least six months in oak barrels).

Upon arriving in Madrid, my wife and I found a quaint outdoor caf頷here we reviewed maps and just tried to stay awake for few hours in the spirit of overcoming jetlag. Unfortunately, one pitcher of sangria led to two, and our siesta was devoted to recovery rather than rest. Anyone who has sipped too much wine in the sun can appreciate the difference.

Later that night, at dinner, I asked our waiter how everyone could drink so much sangria in the early afternoon and remain responsible, productive citizens. He explained that while tourists drink sangria (red wine, brandy, honey, and slices of fruit over ice), locals drink tinto de verano, a lighter combination of red wine and club soda and/or lemonade. Literally translated as “red wine of summer,” the drink is less sweet and intoxicating than sangria and far more refreshing.

As a wine geek, I don’t know why I hadn’t made the drink sooner. Its English cousin, the Shandy (a combination of any lighter-style beer and lemonade over ice), has long been the summer thirst quencher of choice for me and my friends during epic games of bocce and croquet. Why not wine?

We spent the rest of our trip sipping tintos rather than sampling different Spanish wines. I did not return with a list of affordable, high-quality wines to recommend. Instead, I offer a unique summer drink that is a delicious way to beat the oppressive D.C. heat.

Although the drink consists of only two main ingredients, wine and carbonated water and/or lemonade, what you use for them alters the collective taste significantly. In Spain they often use lemon Fanta, which is basically lemon soda. Fanta is hard to find in the United States, so I tested numerous replacements: Fresca, Sprite, Orangina, Squirt, lemonade and Lorina, a sparkling lemonade from France that is surprisingly available on Capitol Hill.

I preferred the combination of club soda and lemonade. The others were too sweet or sour and overpowered the flavor of the wine.

What kind of wine to use? I tested more than 10 varietals, everything from light and fruity pinot noirs to heavy, spicy cabernets. They all make a good tinto; it just depends on what your palate prefers.

A final word about the quality of the wine you use. Most gourmands loyally echo the famous rule “never cook with a wine you would not drink.” While this is good advice, there are limits to how much a wine you are cooking with can hurt or enhance your meal. A few ounces of jug wine can pollute your sauce, but an equal amount of high-quality wine won’t make you the next Mario Batali. The wonderful qualities that separate great wines and fair wines are marred by the slightest influences. If sun and air can (and do) alter the taste, consider what instant lemonade will do.

Using an expensive wine for this drink is simply foolish. Anyone who tells you otherwise had too much sangria at lunch.

Tinto de Verano

1 bottle dry red wine – any varietal
1  cups club soda
1  cups lemonade
3 cups ice cubes
1 lemon, sliced

Pour wine, club soda and lemonade over ice in a large pitcher. Add sliced lemon and stir.

LaVallee is a public-affairs consultant for Susan Davis International and a certified wine buff. He can be reached at dereklavallee@hotmail.com.