January is the time for citrus fruit and especially Seville oranges. These small bitter oranges have quite a short season and need to be preserved either as English orange marmalade or even better as wine, the Provençal aperitif: vin d’orange. Every family has their own recipe for this orange wine and their own traditions and twists to add but basically white or rosé wine is infused with the unbelievable fragrance & taste of these oranges, preserved with sugar and Eau de Vie then matured until summer. When it makes its appearance as a spectacular aperitif of orange sunshine with ice to a lazy lunch or evening meal, you will be grateful that you made a double batch because you will have “tasted” your Château (insert your name here) regularly – strictly for quality control purposes, of course.
Thankfully, we still have some left from last year (double batch!) when I spotted Seville oranges at the market and bought a lot (reason for: double batch!), ordered big glass jars, mashed up recipes and went alcohol shopping to start our own tradition and the first Château James. Most recipes cut the oranges in slices and macerate them for about 2 months though I found a quicker method used by the grandmother of the family, Mireille Durandeau, who ground the oranges which in my opinion allows the oranges to infuse the wine completely and much quicker. I changed it and blitzed them in a food processor a few times which makes this an even more rapid (and less messy) process and guarantees maximum flavour & a wonderful mimosa yellow-orange colour.
A not too heavy or strong tasting white wine (for example a Sauvignon blanc or Pinot grigio) or a light rosé wine from the Provence or Côte d’Azur are perfect and you need a clear and neutral spirit with at least 40° alcohol. We had Alcool special pour fruits spiritueux which is sold in every French Supermarket and is a neutral Eau de Vie for preserving fruit in alcohol, Vodka is also a fine alternative. Get a big glass jar which can hold about 4-5 litres (quarts) with a tight closing lid and no plastic, you do not want your hard work spoiled by solvents or a bouquet of poly-somethings.
Get started this week and enjoy your first glass – ahem, “taste” – by Valentines Day and buy some lovely mimosas at the same time.
makes about 4 litres, adapted from Lucy Vanel’s grandmother-in-law and mother-in-law
7-8 (about 1kg or 35oz) Seville oranges, organic or untreated
750g (26.5 oz) sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 cinnamon stick
0.5 litre (½ qt) French Alcool pour fruits or Eau de Vie or Vodka (a neutral spirit, 40°)
2 litres (2qt) white wine (Sauvignon blanc, Pinot grigio or else) or a light rosé wine from the Provence or Côte d’Azur
Wash and roughly cut the oranges, place in a food processor and blitz the fruit including peel, pips and all into small pieces. Make sure not to over-blend, you do not want to get a puree only small pieces that can be filtered out later. Fill the cut oranges with the sugar in a big glass jar with an airtight lid (I made a double batch and used a 5 litres and a 4 litres jar), add the vanilla and cinnamon and mix with the spirit. Fill up with white wine, close the lid and leave to macerate in a cool dark place for about a month. Filter the wine through a fine mesh sieve and decant into small bottles. Seal and ideally store for about 6 months until summer. We start “tasting” it pretty soon after bottling – which I recommend with one or two ice cubes in a small glass.