Monday, March 18, 2013

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Bottling the Pamper Moose: Homemade Vin de Pamplemousse with Bergamot

This year's label
It's been said that San Diego's seasons can be divided roughly into four: Early Summer, Summer, Late Summer, and Next Summer. As local flowers start to bloom, nights remain chilly and one still does see young women wearing hot pants, scarves, and fleece-lined boots, but it's undeniable that Early Summer is on us once more. Summer can't be far off — and with it comes a craving for lighter and more bitter drinks. Whether that bitterness comes from hops, citrus peel, quinine, wormwood, or more esoteric bittering agents, count me in. This weekend I got a leg up on Summer by bottling a faintly bitter grapefruit aperitif for our yard drinks in the coming months.

The vin d'orange, a bitter orange wine I put up last month, is still maturing in big glass jars and will be for another several weeks, but a grapefruit version of essentially the same aperitif, vin de pamplemousse, only took a month to macerate. Yesterday I bottled six liters of the traditional before-dinner drink. The recipe isn't wholly traditional, however. Oh, the grapefruit (pamplemousse in French) is legit. Even the sweet oranges I sliced and threw in to soften the wine a bit wouldn't raise every eyebrow in France. However, I'd gotten my hands on a load of bergamot oranges and included one in the mix, an addition that may cause purists to sniff in disdain. Ah, well. Their loss.

Racked, clear, and bottled: grapefruit wine
Bergamot, tea fanciers know, is a type of sour orange that lends its distinctive, almost lavender-like aroma to Earl Grey tea. The fruit looks a bit like a lemon, but unlike a lemon's, the volatile oils in its skin are so potent that they easily overwhelm food and drink if not treated with care. The juice is mild enough and can be used much like lemon juice, but truly, a small amount of skin or zest goes a long, long way. Two common precautions against its dominance in cooking and preserves making are (a) to use small amounts relative to the other ingredients and (b) to blanch each fruit before use. I chose the former: only one bergamot to every six grapefruit and two oranges.

Even in southern California, bergamots can be hard to track down during their late-winter Early Summer season. If you have access, use one. If not, just toss in an extra sliced grapefruit.

Vin de Pamplemousse with Bergamot

2 white grapefruit
4 ruby red grapefruit
1 bergamot
2 navel oranges
1 2" piece of vanilla bean, split lengthwise and cut into thirds
4.5 L crisp white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc (e.g., Trader Joe's coastal)
750ml 80 proof (40% abv) vodka
1.75 cups/350 g sugar

Cut each piece of citrus into an upper and lower half. Slice each half into half-moon shapes, about 1/4"/6mm thick, saving any juice. Combine all the ingredients (including any juice from slicing) into a single two-gallon/8L nonreactive container with a sealable lid such as a jar or carboy.

Stir or shake it, then allow it to rest in a cool, dark place (a closet is fine: no need to refrigerate). Strain after one month into a similar large container. After one day, rack the cleared liquid off the  cloudy residue at the bottom of the container. Strain this through cheesecloth or other clean filter, and bottle in clean, sterilized wine bottles. Seal with new corks and label. Let rest a few months in a cool, dark place.

Makes about six liters.

Goes well with:

  • That vin d'orange I mentioned. Good stuff. 
  • Each year, I try to make a batch of creme de noyau using crushed peach pits and a recipe from an old, old Creole cookbook. I don't always get around to it, but when I do make some, here's the recipe I use
  • If light wines aren't your speed, how about fifty oranges and a gallon of corn whiskey?
  • Fany Gerson's recipe for pasita, a dark raisin cordial from Mexico.
  • Finally, more old recipes: three separate recipes for syrup of violets spanning nearly 250 years. 


Anonymous said...

We opened our first bottle tonight and it was outstanding. I will be starting another batch tomorrow because the 7 bottles are not going to last long.

Matthew Rowley said...

I'm so glad to read that you like it. For what it's worth, I'm kicking myself for not making more — a straight up grapefruit or grapefruit/orange version is still available, but the bergamots aren't back around here until the dead of winter. Drink up!