Intense heat does strange things to you. It causes your appetite to go into hibernation, turns lying down in front of the AC wearing as little as possible into a perfectly reasonable thing to do for hours on end, and makes mixing delicious Spanish red wine with lemon soda sound like a damn good idea.
If you’re at all like me, then tinto de verano probably seems like an abomination. Translated as “red wine of summer,” you’ll find it all over Spain. While the tourists are drinking pricier pitchers of sangria, the Spanish are cooling off with glasses of tinto de verano—red wine mixed with gaseosa served over ice, often with a slice or two of citrus. You can even find premixed bottles of it in grocery stores, but as with any bottled mixed drink, don’t do that.
When I moved to Madrid a few months ago and noticed tinto de verano on nearly every menu in the city, I didn’t give it much thought aside from: Lemon and red wine? That sounds horrible. But then June arrived, bringing with it a nonstop stream of days in the mid-to-high 90s that has yet to let up. I keep reading about how cities in Europe and the US are experiencing heat waves where the temperatures get this high for a few days, but in Madrid, this just seems to be what everyone calls “summer.” After having just spent the past 10 years in Seattle, where summer hovers in the mid-70s, Madrid’s temperatures feel like what I might call “the end of days.”
Which is why I eventually broke down and ordered a tinto de verano at a sidewalk café. The backs of my legs were dripping with sweat and I was sticking to my chair, so when a tray of these beautifully cold, rosy-red drinks full of ice cubes and bright lemon slices whizzed by, I figured it was either order one or melt away right then, never to be heard from again.
To say that I stand corrected on the subject of tinto de verano would be doing a disservice to that cliché. A good tinto de verano is almost lifesaving (and a bad one is still refreshing). It’s cold and fruity and tangy without being overly sweet. The bubbles are noticeable, but subtle. And thanks to its (relatively) low alcohol content, you can have one or two with tapas in the evening and not be done for la noche.
What makes or breaks a tinto de verano is the quality of the lemon soda. La Casera is the traditional brand to use in Spain, but I suspect that a San Pellegrino Limonata would work well, too. You want something that’s not terribly sweet and that doesn’t have any artificial flavors.
I’ve written before (in a past life) about how I like my lemony things bracingly lemony, so when the day’s temperature is at its highest (in Madrid, that’s around 6pm—perfectly timed with my hard-wired American notion of happy hour), I’ll make my own with a lemon-infused simple syrup and club soda.* This version is best enjoyed in front of the AC, while doing as little as possible.
Tinto de Verano with Lemon Simple Syrup
Serves: 1 cocktail
Note: Delicious as this drink is, let’s not forget that we’re still mixing red wine and soda here. Now is not the time to break out your best bottle of Rioja. An inexpensive, light-bodied table wine—Spanish or otherwise—will be just fine.
Also, while I’ve provided some measurements, the proportions of this drink are entirely up to you. Want more vino and less water? Have at it!
For the tinto de verano:
- 4 oz. light red wine (see note)
- 2 oz. club soda
- Ice cubes
- 2–3 thin slices of lemon for garnish
For the lemon simple syrup:
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 lemons, sliced crosswise
(1) To make the syrup, heat the water, sugar and two sliced lemons in a small saucepan, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is hot. Remove from the heat, cover and let cool completely. Once cool, strain the lemon syrup through a fine mesh sieve into a glass jar and refrigerate until ready to use. (You can keep this lemon syrup covered in the fridge for up to two weeks.)
(2) To make the drink, fill a glass with ice cubes and 2 or 3 thinly sliced pieces of lemon. Add the wine, lemon syrup to taste (I like 2 tablespoons, more or less) and club soda, and then stir well with a long bar spoon before serving.
*If you’d rather use a lemon soda instead of making simple syrup, add ice and lemon slices to a glass. Pour in 4 ounces (or so) of wine and top off with 2 ounces (or so) of soda. ¡Salud!