Buzz: Why would I want to ruin a good wine by dumping oranges and cherries and soda into it?
Marnie: Adding wine to other drinks didn't start out as fruit punch. Historically, water sources near human settlements tended to be tainted and made people sick. While the bacterial cause wasn't understood until the 19th century, it's clear that ancient civilizations knew that mixing wine into their water made it safer to drink. In many cultures, it was more common to drink a diluted wine mixture than to drink wine alone.
Marnie: Exactly. Since many wines back then did not taste very good, even before they were diluted, people would add herbs and spices to improve flavor.
Today, we're motivated by flavor, not health. Wine can taste great alone, of course, but there's no reason not to use it in mixed drinks, and that's what sangria is. Nowadays we dilute wine with tastier ingredients like fruit juice or soda, as with Spanish sangria.
Ironically, sangria is now more popular here than it is in Spain.
Buzz: Really? Why?
Marnie: Spaniards usually drink their wine undiluted. Ordering sangria in Spain typically just gets you red wine on ice topped with 7 Up. The American sangria craze began with a delicious wine cocktail served at the Spanish pavilion of the 1964 World's Fair in New York. Sliced lemons and oranges were soaked in Spanish red wine that had been spiked with brandy and orange liqueur and diluted with club soda.
The drink was a smash hit, and this version of sangria became quite popular in the U.S. Nowadays, American bars and restaurants serve a rainbow of sangria-style wine cocktails, and not all are made with red wine.
Buzz: Wow. I was at that World's Fair, but the only thing I was drinking was Nedick's.
Marnie Old is a local sommelier and wine author known for practical advice with real-world relevance. Her newest book, Wine: A Tasting Course, is an illustrated crash course for the wine-curious. Marnie also advises clients in the beverage and restaurant trades. Check her out at MarnieOld.com or follow her on Twitter at @MarnieOld. Buzz's musings are interpreted by Daily News Assistant Managing Editor Gar Joseph.