After growing up in a family of restaurateurs, Vicente Sanchez left his native Spain in his 20s to pursue a career outside the family business.

"I had enough of restaurants, so I went as far away as I could," he said.

Sanchez, 53, and his wife, Marita Gomez, came to Tucson in 1996 to escape the cold after they both earned degrees from the University of Wisconsin. Sanchez worked as an urban planner for more than 10 years, even opening his own landscape architectural firm.

However, in what he calls "a moment of weakness," Sanchez founded Casa Vicente, 375 S. Stone Ave., in 2005.

"My office used to be close by, and I would always see this building available," Sanchez said. "I didn't give it too much thought. Within a week, I signed a contract and told my wife, 'We're opening a restaurant.' "

Sanchez founded Casa Vicente as a way to bring to the Southwest traditional Spanish cuisine, including tapas, paella and sangria, a popular summertime drink.

Sangria, a mix of red wine, chopped fruit, brandy and a sweetener, has become a trendy drink in the Old Pueblo as restaurants around the city are serving the Mediterranean cocktail.

Sanchez attributes the rise in sangria culture to the city's history, as the Spanish brought citrus and grapes into Tucson in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Casa Vicente serves two types of sangria, a traditional red and a white.

"Growing up, I saw sangria at every table," he said. "My grandparents served it every summer and then my parents opened a restaurant that was basically based on wine. They made one traditional sangria, and it was very popular."

Sanchez uses the family recipe, which he said can be traced back thousands of years. The red sangria is made of Garnacha, brandy, Cointreau triple sec, sherry, club soda and seasonal, locally grown fruit. The less-popular white sangria uses most of the same ingredients as the red, substituting white wine in place of red.

Casa Vicente premixes its sangria, omitting the fruit and ice until a customer orders a glass. According to Sanchez, it is a misconception that it's best to leave the fruit sitting in the mixture because it will ferment after a few hours.

"Nobody tried to reinvent the wheel," Sanchez said of the recipe. "Everybody was used to those flavors and it worked for many years, so everybody was looking for that."

According to Sanchez, sangria is a homey drink, and it is customary in Spain for families to order a pitcher as an accompaniment to conversation.

"In America, you put more thought about what goes into your mouth than what comes out of it," he said. "In Spain, people sit and eat for hours. Sangria prolongs the meals."

Concocting cocktails

While most restaurants stick to traditional sangria ingredients, others put their own twist on the recipe.

Luke Anable, 29, has worked as the bar manager at Penca, 50 E. Broadway, since it opened in March.

Knowing that the drink menu was going to be only loosely based on classic recipes, Anable, along with head bartender Bryan Eichhorst, had room to play in terms of developing drinks.

"Sangria was a good opportunity to meld our interest in wine and cocktails," Anable said. "It's really rich conceptually in that way."

Penca serves two types of sangria - sangria of Grenache and sangria of rosé. The sangria of Grenache consists of Spanish brandy, dry Spanish sherry, rich cinnamon syrup, French Grenache, fresh lemon juice and a borage garnish. The sangria of rosé is made by steeping thyme, rosemary and savory in provincial rosé then adding dry Peruvian pisco, reduced Chardonnay and dry sherry.

"We think that it's important to use good wine, so it's not like a recycled cocktail," Anable said. "We want it to be a cocktail in its own right."

Instead of fruit, the restaurant uses a grapefruit cordial in both sangrias, which is prepared by peeling and juicing grapefruits, lightly cooking the juice with honey, then chilling it overnight.

Anable believes that the marriage of innovative sangria cocktails and traditional recipes is prompting the rise in sangria culture. It's critical, Anable said, to pay attention to flavors and use good quality ingredients.

"Sangria is a very easy drink to use cheap ingredients if you want. You just want to be sure to never go down that path."

Penca is developing two new types of sangria that will be added to the menu in the coming weeks.

"Bull's blood"

While Tucson's iconic El Charro Cafe is best known for its margaritas, drinkwise, its two sangrias are also popular.

"Sangria is a nice drink," said co-owner Marques Flores. "It hits your palate and kind of cools you down and refreshes you."

Flores, 42, has been working at El Charro, 311 N. Court Ave., for 30 years.

Sangria, known as "bull's blood," comes from the Spanish word, "sangre," and has been served at the restaurant for more than 40 years.

Around 20 years ago, Flores helped invent El Charro Cafe's current sangria recipe with help from a man who lived in Spain.

"We were doing something we made up, but he gave me pointers on the different types of wine to use and then told us the different types of fruit," Flores said.

El Charro serves two kinds of sangria: El Charro Sangria, a blend of red and white wines, muddled fresh fruit, juices and brandy, and Blood Orange and Blackberry Sangria, which is nectar of blood orange and blackberry infused with Patron Citronge. They are both made ready-to-order using locally grown fruit.

"Both of these are more or less sangrias that we've adapted to the United States," Flores said.

Flores feels that in order for a sangria culture to thrive in Tucson, restaurants not only need to alter the drink to customers' tastes, but also to the restaurant menus.

"Each restaurant that has sangria has to adapt it to their food," Flores said. "Some foods are real rich and some are real light, so you have to find the one that is a happy medium with whatever restaurant locale you go to."

Casa Vicente's Red Sangria

Makes: 2 liters

• 1 bottle (750 milliliters) of Garnacha (or Grenache) wine

• 8 ounces brandy

• 8 ounces Cointreau or triple sec

• 4 ounces sherry

• 24 ounces (two cans) of club soda, 7-Up or Sprite

• Juice of 1 lemon

• 1 cinnamon stick

• 1 clove

• Peel from 1 lemon, sliced

• Sugar to taste

• 1 apple, chopped

• 1 peach, sliced

• 1 small orange, sliced

• Ice to cool

In a large pitcher, mix the Garnacha, brandy, Cointreau, sherry, club soda and lemon juice. Add cinnamon stick, clove, lemon peel and sugar to flavor. Add apple, peach, orange and ice when ready to serve.

From Casa Vicente restaurant

Justin Sayers is a University of Arizona student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact him at 573-4117 or