How to Make Vin de Pamplemousse, Your Next Favorite Summer Drink
An easy-drinking fortified wine ideal for the warm weather days ahead
Sometimes good drinking is all about advanced preparation. In the winter, that means making your eggnog well before the holidays begin, giving it time to rest in the refrigerator. In the spring, it might mean infusing a big batch of vin de pamplemousse a few weeks ahead of your sunny outdoor soirees.
Vin de pamplemousse? Even if your grades in French were as bad as mine, you can probably guess that this has something to do with wine and grapefruit. And indeed, those are the two main ingredients. Vin de pamplemousse, and the closely related vin d’orange, are easy-drinking aperitifs made by infusing wine with citrus, sugar and spices, and fortifying the blend with the addition of distilled spirits. It’s very easy to make at home and this is the perfect season to try it, taking advantage of late winter citrus to craft a finished product that will be ready just in time for spring and summer imbibing.
Vin de pamplemousse works with widely available grapefruits, oranges or Meyer lemons, while vin d’orange is traditionally made with aromatic Seville oranges, which are difficult to find in the United States. In either case, making the drink requires just the basic ingredients, a big jar or two and about a month of infusion time.
Where vin de pamplemousse got its start
In the United States, much of the enthusiasm for vin de pamplemousse traces back to Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse and her Chez Panisse Fruit cookbook. It was through this lineage that Justin Wafer, maker of the small batch vin de pamplemousse brand Pampleau, encountered the wine while working in a restaurant in Eugene, Oregon. Described by the owner, who had cooked in the Bay Area, as a wine “so lovely he could bathe in it,” he ended up making dozens of batches over the years, constantly tweaking the recipe to dial in the best results.
Wafer eventually moved to Portland with a notion to get into beer brewing, going so far as to build a pilot brewery in his garage, but soon realized that making vin de pamplemousse would require a lot less capital to get started. Thus, Pampleau was born in 2014, made in a single large batch with a whole lot of wine and citrus. “I increased the alcohol content from about 11-12% from the original recipe to 16% to strengthen the flavor and to increase stability,” he says. “I also added an assortment of herbs and spices to accompany the grapefruit flavor and make it my own.”
Pampleau, now available in five states, is a fantastic option if you’d like to simply buy a bottle of vin de pamplemousse. Still, it’s fun and easy to make your own, too. Wafer’s process for making his commercial version is more complex than what you need to do at home, but he’s still happy to provide some tips.
Before you begin making your own
The first tip is not to spend too much on your wine. You want something light and crisp — preferably a sauvignon blanc — but there’s no need to spring for pricey bottles. You’re going to be transforming the wine with other flavorful ingredients, so even a cheap wine will turn into something far more palatable when the process is complete.
The second is to snag some late-winter citrus if you can find it, such as Meyer lemons. Oranges will work too, but Meyer lemons make a particularly nice complement to the grapefruit. Lastly, Wafer suggests a slightly drier recipe than what you might typically find online. Tastes have changed to become more accepting of dry aperitifs with a bitter edge; besides, you can always add a little sugar later if you decide you’d like your vin de pamplemousse to be a bit sweeter.
The vin de pamplemousse recipe and a cocktail
The recipe below is adapted from one by Alice Waters. You can halve it to make a smaller batch, though you may find yourself wishing for more if you do. Feel free to customize it with additional flavor accents, but Wafer warns that “anything beyond a cinnamon stick or some vanilla could get dicey.” Chamomile flowers are another possible addition, and you could also try using a spirit other than vodka for a less neutral fortifier. (I’ve tried a version with blanco tequila and was quite happy with the results.)
6 ruby red grapefruits, sliced into finger-width wheels
3 Meyer lemons or 2 sweet oranges, sliced as above
2” piece of vanilla bean, split
6 750 ml bottles of crisp white wine, preferably sauvignon blanc
1 750 ml bottle of 80-proof vodka
1.5 cups sugar
Combine all ingredients in one large vessel or divided evenly between two large jars. Stir to mix. Store in a cool, dark place or inside a refrigerator, for 30-40 days, shaking periodically. Taste near the end of the infusion period and when ready to decant, strain the wine through cheesecloth to remove the solids. Seal in bottles and keep refrigerated, where they will last throughout the summer and quite possibly longer.
When you’re ready to drink — ideally on a warm evening in the sun — simply serve the chilled vin de pamplemousse in a wine glass or perhaps on the rocks with a twist of citrus. For a lighter touch, you can also serve it as a spritz with fresh grapefruit and soda.
Of course, it can also make an excellent cocktail ingredient rather than a standalone aperitif. The Roman’s Revenge is one of Justin Wafer’s drinks, a refreshingly tart cocktail with a crisp hint of bitter:
1.5 oz Pampleau or vin de pamplemousse
1 oz vodka
.5 oz Aperol
.5 oz fresh lime juice
.25 oz simple syrup (1:1 sugar to water)
Shake and serve on the rocks with a twist of grapefruit peel
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