Before arriving in Spain, you’re likely to hear of sangria and envision it as the quintessential Spanish drink. I know I certainly pictured everyone sitting in sunny plazas sippin’ on sangria all day everyday. However, due to the more elaborated process of preparing a good sangria, it can be difficult to find a well-made sangria that doesn’t break the bank. I find that for this reason, many Spaniards opt for a cheaper tinto de verano instead. But this drink can be very different depending on how it is made as well so let’s talk about what tinto de verano really is.
What does tinto de verano mean?
Literally translated, tinto de verano means ‘the red wine of summer’ but that does not mean it is only available in summer! This refreshing option is simply a mix of red wine and a bubbly mixer, similar to tonic water, lemon Fanta, or sprite. The result is a chilled, lower-in-alcoholic-content drink that can be enjoyed sitting in that sunny plaza or at the bar ordering tapas.
But what is it, really?
My personal theory is that tinto de verano became a thing in order for bartenders to serve more wine in the hot weather and/or to use up leftover wine in a repurposed way. The best version of tinto de verano is made when the bartender literally pulls a decanter of red wine out the fridge and mixes it right then and there with a fizzy drink. I personally find this to be the best as the wine has likely aged a bit, giving it a stronger taste that is balanced out perfectly by the mixer. However, you may also experience tinto de verano being mixed from a new bottle of wine or even get a pre-made version from a bottle or tap.
How should I order my tinto de verano?
Best Bet for: hot summer afternoons
Con limón (“with lemon”): If you don’t specify and the bartender doesn’t ask, this is the default option that you will be served. For the first few years of living in Spain I didn’t even realize there WAS another option! This is the sweeter version of tinto de verano that will be a bit “hazier” in color (if compared to a con blanca, otherwise you won’t likely think about this). It tends to be made with Casera limón or Fanta limón. (Casera is simply a brand name of soft drinks here in Spain.)
Best Bet for: a night out with tapas
Con blanca (“with white”): Alternatively, if you’d prefer a stronger wine taste, I recommend trying your tinto de verano con blanca, which tends to be made with Casera blanca. This version of Casera is considered a gaseosa, or fizzy drink, similar to tonic water. This kind of tinto de verano will be clearer and generally stronger. However, I find that sometimes tinto de verano con limón can be too sweet and so switching to (or only having) it con blanca actually allows me to enjoy this drink for longer, without feeling the sugar start to build up on my teeth.
Best Bet for: Long days/nights like the feria or noche de San Juan
Pre-made: Beware the pre-made tinto de verano. It’s not that there’s anything truly wrong with it, but you’ll be getting a more a sweet drink than an alcoholic beverage. Brands like Don Simón, Sandevid, and La Casera all produce bottled tinto de verano which is ready to be enjoyed, no mixing required. Similarly, some bars/restaurants like Cien Montaditos will have tinto de verano on tap. In both cases, you can expect to receive a low-in-alcoholic-content beverage, most likely con limón. My personal opinion is to avoid this version unless you are specifically choosing it for a long day/night in which you want to be drinking but not getting drunk. However, if you can’t drink sweet drinks for long, this is probably not the version for you as it tends to be the sweetest. Pre-made tinto de verano also comes in a non-alcoholic version so choose accordingly.
Which version of tinto de verano do you prefer?