Summer in southern Spain is lush, sultry and exceptionally hot. Experiencing the region’s blistering temps during the summer months makes you realize why a siesta is so necessary: All motivation to move evaporates alongside the sweat beading on your skin. A nap—and a drink—truly seems like the only reasonable solution to the lethargy that accompanies day after day of that cheerful, oppressive heat.
Luckily, Spain boasts no shortage of refreshing summer cocktails. Sangria may be the most iconic of these cocktails, and agua de Valencia is probably the most underrated, though they’re both famed for their strength. But when the summer heat is absolutely sweltering and all I want to do is sit, motionless, and wait for the sun to set so I can once again regain coherent thought, the ultimate cocktail, in my opinion, is the tinto de verano. It’s a simple cocktail that almost anyone can easily make at home, no cocktail shaker needed. In its most simple form, it’s just equal parts soda and red wine, though some opt to add sweet vermouth or rum to keep things interesting.
The drink has been around since the early 1900s, when Federico Vargas, who operated an establishment in Cordoba, Spain, dreamt up the refreshing combo of red wine (“tinto” in Spanish) and soda. Originally, the drink was referred to as “Vargas.” Before long, though, it was dubbed “tinto de verano” because it’s generally served in the summer. Lightly carbonated, low in alcohol and totally unfussy: There’s a reason it found success in southern Spain, a region that boasts average summer temps of well into the 90s Fahrenheit during the summer. As forecasters predict a hotter-than-usual summer this year (which seems to be the case every year at this point), the coming months seem like the perfect time to indulge in this simple wine cocktail.
I’m actually surprised that it’s not already more of a thing in the U.S., especially as the lower-ABV movement takes hold. Many consumers are eschewing strong spirits and super-alcoholic red wines for lighter, more easily drinkable options like seltzers, light beers and spritzers. Tinto de verano just happens to fall in line with this trend: Watering down your wine with soda is an easy way to cut the alcohol content and ensure you can enjoy more than one drink without getting woozy in the summer heat.
I’ve noticed tinto de verano on shockingly few restaurant menus in the U.S., which seem to favor the sweeter and more-alcoholic sangria, but blessedly, it’s an exceptionally easy cocktail to make at home, and I say this as someone who has butchered every single cocktail recipe she’s ever tried. It all starts with the wine. Some suggest using a lighter, fruitier wine to keep things fresh; if that’s the kind of drink you’re going for, consider a Pinot Noir or a Garnacha. But if you’re feeling something bolder, more tannic options like a Tempranillo or a Cabernet Sauvignon can balance out the sweetness of the soda, according to Hilda Ysusi of Texas’ Broken Barrel, who spoke to The Manual.
When it comes to the soda, you have a few different options at your fingertips. Gaseosa La Casera, a European soda, is often used in Spain, and lemon soda is also a popular option. If you’re in the U.S., Sprite, 7Up or even carbonated water can take the place of the La Casera, though it should be noted that American lemon-lime sodas are often significantly sweeter than their Spanish counterparts. Grapefruit soda can also be utilized to cut down on the some of the sweetness that you’ll find in many of those lemon-lime sodas.
The modern craft cocktail movement is known for its intricate use of unexpected ingredients and masterful mixing of flavors. But that doesn’t mean there’s not still a place for simplicity. The tinto de verano delivers on that front, offering an easy-to-mix drink that’s low in alcohol and high in refreshment. As this summer reaches scorching temperatures, the tinto de verano promises a more exciting alternative to the average seltzer or subpar canned cocktail.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.