“I bought El Meson 12 years ago, and that’s where it all started,” says Hector Ruiz, smiling at the bar of Cafe Ena in South Minneapolis. When he took over, El Meson had been serving boxed sangria. Ruiz figured he could do better.
He began tweaking a recipe that would become a staple at all four of his concurrent restaurants, which include Cafe Ena, Rincon 38, La Fresca, and La Ceiba Bistro. (El Meson closed in 2012.) At Cafe Ena, they serve about five gallons of sangria on a normal winter weekend. In the summer, it’s closer to 15.
“It’s traditional Spanish sangria,” Ruiz says. “We use really earthy wines—tempranillo and Rioja for reds, and verdejo for white.” Whichever wines you might use, make sure they’re bone dry and have lots of tannin and body. The drink will get much lighter and sweeter as you add the other ingredients. And remember, sangria is an art, not a science. You’ll have to adjust the quantities and zero in on the way you like it—the same way Ruiz has been for the last decade-plus.
“2015 was really great,” Ruiz says. “Now we’re opening a new [restaurant]. They say I’m a South Minneapolis guy, but we’re going to Northeast. Hopefully first week of March, opening restaurant number five.” I’ll give you one guess as to which drink will be most popular there on opening day.
- 1 bottle red wine
- 1 bottle white wine
- ¼ cup orange juice
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- ⅓ cup sugar
- Brandy (or dark rum, sherry, or reposado tequila)
- Sparkling water
Chop up whatever fruit you have lying around (Granny Smith apples and orange wedges are nice) and add them to a large pitcher with a splash of brandy (or rum, or whatever booze floats your boat).
Add the wine and juices. Slowly add the sugar, tasting until it reaches your desired sweetness, and then add sparkling water to your desired dilution.
Fill wine glasses with ice and fruit chunks, add sangria, and serve.