The best citrus are now in season and citrus based liqueurs are always part of my January project list. The first Cara Cara oranges translate to Triple Sec, an easy combination of sugar, fruit and clear alcohol (like vodka) that will make an amazing margarita in July, when it will be hot and we’ll be outside. Hard to believe in that sunshine when it’s all gray skies, but the smell of the citrus and the color of the liqueur are good reminders.
Yes, triple sec, and I’ll make limoncello, arancello, and with those ruby red grapefruit that last week were part of a Salty Dog, this week become Vin de Pampelmousse, a heavenly digestif that requires hardly any work but plenty of patience.
This is hardly a new idea. Food historians cite notations as far back as the fifteenth century for this French fortified wine. It’s not a grapefruit wine really, it’s a wine fortified with alcohol and flavored with citrus. The bittersweet, floral nuances are perfected when served ice cold in an elegant apertif glass, particularly after a heavy meal.
The best fruit will be flavorful, juicy and deeply colored. The final product will be enriched by the color of the peel as well as the fruit, so pink and orange tones will keep the Vin from having a color akin to a certain familiar electrolyte drink.
Select a good wine for this project. I prefer to use Sancerre, but it’s gotten wildly expensive, so this year, upon recommendation of the knowledgable fellows at Schneiders of Capitol Hill, I’ve selected a Loire valley sauvignon blanc. Evidently from grapes that live just on the other side of the proverbial track from the Sancerre grapes, and therefore much more affordable. In deference to this drink’s history, I always choose French wines for this project, but remembering the citrus is from California, I realize there is inconsistency in my logic.
Even for apartment dwellers, this is an easy activity. You will need a two and half gallon glass jar, ceramic crock, or food safe plastic bucket that will fit into a dark corner of a closet or cabinet. I have even filled up oversized glass vases found at thrift shops. Eventually you will need eight empty glass bottles with caps or corks.
As with many fortified wines and fruit liqueurs, fermentation takes a month or more, after which the solids are strained out. It may take three or four strainings for a perfectly clear wine. I prefer to strain twice, then decant and strain the wine into an elegant crystal pitcher at service.
Always start with well washed, firm, ripe fruit, preferably organic. And get right on it, because citrus season is fleeting.
Vin de Pampelmousse
6 ruby grapefruit, the deeper the red the better
2 oranges, CaraCara or Valencia, if possible
4 lemons, Meyer are nice but not necessary
1 Vanilla Bean
3 cups sugar
5 liters dry white wine – I prefer Sancerre or any white from the Loire valley
1 fifth inexpensive vodka
2-1/2 gallon glass jar, ceramic crock, or food safe plastic bucket with lid
A long handled spoon that will reach to the bottom of the jar/crock/bucket
6-8 empty liter bottles with caps or corks
Wash the citrus well and then slice into 1/2” thick rounds. Remove the seeds as they will add an unpleasant bitterness to the end product.
Pack the citrus into the jar sprinkling the sugar in between the layers.
Split the vanilla bean and add it to the fruit and sugar.
Pour the wine and vodka over the fruit. Stir well.
Tuck the jar into the corner of a dark closet. For the first week, visit the jar every day and give it a good stir, to make sure the sugar fully dissolves.
Make a note on the calendar to check on your project in forty days.
After the jar has hung out in the closet for forty days, strain the fruit and vanilla bean out.
Line the sieve with cheesecloth and strain the mixture two more times, then funnel your elixir into the reserved bottles.
Allow the Vin de Pampelmousse to ripen another month before serving, during which time you can design appropriately divine labels for the bottles and think about who might be worthy of receiving one. I like it best after about three months.
Store away from direct sunlight and heat. The finished Vin will keep indefinitely.
Cara Cara Triple Sec
Makes two quarts
10 Cara Cara oranges
4 c sugar
1 c water
4 c inexpensive vodka or grain alcohol
Rinse and dry two one quart jars.
With a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from 4 of the oranges, leaving behind as much of the white pith as possible. Divide the peel between the two jars.
Juice all the oranges. You should have about 2 cups of orange juice.
Heat the sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved. Pour in the orange juice slowly, stirring all the while.
Bring to a simmer and cook gently for 5 minutes.
Cool the sugar syrup completely. Then divide between the two jars. Divide the vodka between the two jars.
Cover the jars and place in a cool, dark spot for one month.
After one month, strain through cheesecloth and bottle.