Alcoholic beverages come in many different styles and tastes, and wine is no exception. Some wines are dry, some are sweet, some might remind you of medicine when you take the first sip. And actually, some wines were meant to be medicine originally. One of them is Dubonnet.
Dubonnet is a fortified and aromatized wine from France. It’s made from red wine, brandy, and various spices. Wine lovers drink it as an aperitif, a digestif, or as an ingredient in different cocktails.
Its history is as fascinating as its flavor profile. In this article, we will cover both in detail, and we will also discuss the best ways to enjoy Dubonnet.
What Is Dubonnet Made From?
The base for Dubonnet is a still wine made from different red grapes. In France, the producers prefer the varietals Merlot and grapes from the Olmo family such as Rubired and Ruby Cabernet.
The key to making Dubonnet is to stop the fermentation process early by adding neutral grape brandy. Vintners then mix the must with bark from the Cinchona tree, which is the basis for quinine. They also add cane sugar and several herbs to give the wine its typical spicy taste.
Where Does Dubonnet Come From?
Dubonnet originated in France. Joseph Dubonnet, a chemist and wine lover from Paris, introduced it in 1846. By this time, soldiers and settlers in French colonies in North Africa struggled with Malaria, a potentially lethal disease that causes fever, aches, and other symptoms.
The original recipe contained quinine, a substance that back then was a common medication for this disease. Its bitter flavor wasn’t very pleasant, though. So he tried to mask it by adding different spices and herbs.
This interesting mix of aromas made Dubonnet very popular, first as medication, and later as a leisure drink. And it still has many fans today. One of its most prominent fans is the British Queen Elizabeth II, who enjoys it with a shot of Gin before dinner.
Since 1976, the French company Pernod Ricard is the only producer in Europe. Besides the original red wine (Dubonnet Rouge), they now make two variations:
- Dubonnet Blanc, a white style
- Dubonnet Gold, a golden variation
There is another style available, though. In the 1940s, when the Germans occupied France, the export of French products was impossible. But the Americans didn’t want to abstain from the fortified wine, so they decided to make their own. For this purpose, they created a slightly different formula. For instance, they replaced Merlot grapes by Muscat of Alexandria.
Since 1993, the distillery Heaven Hill from Kentucky produces American Dubonnet exclusively.
What Does Dubonnet Taste Like?
Think of Dubonnet as a combination of fortified wine like Port or Sherry and a herbal liqueur. With an alcohol content of 15% and a thick, almost syrup-like texture, it’s a full-bodied and robust drink. It offers sweet as well as bitter flavors. The latter comes primarily from quinine, which still is a crucial ingredient.
Other flavors you can sense include herbs and spices, such as thyme, rosemary, fennel, anise, orange zest, and nutmeg. You might also perceive notes of cacao, raisins, and lavender, as well as earthy or wooden aromas.
The relatively new white variation is dryer than the red version. Expect more intense spicy and herbal notes when drinking it.
American styles are stronger in alcohol (about 19% vol.) and slightly sweeter than their French cousin. The reason is that the quinine, which produces bitter flavors, is less dominant.
How to Serve Dubonnet
Traditionally, Dubonnet is an aperitif meant to be drunk before the first course. But it also is enjoyable as a digestif after dinner.
If you don’t want to drink it pure, mix it into a cocktail. You can use it as an ingredient in many drinks, such as the “Dubonnet Manhattan” or the “Napoleon”.
What Is the Right Glass for Dubonnet?
When drinking it pure, the best glass is a dessert wine glass with a small bowl. To keep it cool as long as possible, pick one with a long stem. When holding the glass by the bottom part of this stem, your hand will have a significant distance to the bowl, so it doesn’t heat the wine. A Sherry glass is a good pick.
For cocktails, a glass with a wide bowl is fine, for example, a Coupe glass.
What is the Right Serving Temperature for Dubonnet?
Serve Dubonnet chilled at a temperature of around 50°F (10°C). It’s not unusual to drink it on ice. But as the melting ice dilutes it over time, it might be better to put it into the fridge before serving.
Should You Decant Dubonnet?
Dubonnet won’t get better when you expose it to oxygen. Decanting only causes it to get warmer, which harms the drinking experience.
How to Store Dubonnet
Like all wines, Dubonnet should have a dark, cool place, so sunlight or high temperatures can’t harm it. If you own a wine cellar, that’s the right place to store it. A wine fridge is even better.
Can Dubonnet Be Aged?
Dubonnet has no aging potential at all. When bottled, it is at the peak of its quality, so it won’t get better if you store it for years. If the space in your cellar is limited, better reserve it for wines that actually improve with age.
Can Dubonnet Go Off?
Like all aromatized wines, it will spoil if you expose it to oxygen or heat too long. So stick to the best storing practices: no sunlight, no heat, no aggressive smells, and no vibrations.
How Long Will Dubonnet Last After Opening?
After opening a bottle, it will last for up to two months. You need to provide the proper storing conditions, though. Unlike an unopen bottle, don’t put an open bottle into your cellar or wine fridge. Instead, reseal it and put it into your (regular) refrigerator.
Dubonnet Shopping Tips
When shopping Dubonnet, make sure you get what you want: The original comes from France. U.S. variations taste similar but they aren’t exactly the same. So pay attention to the origin if you want to get the traditional taste.
Be aware that many online retailers might put Dubonnet into the Vermouth category although it actually doesn’t belong there.
Expect to pay between 15 and 20 USD for a bottle of 750ml.
Dubonnet is little-known among wine lovers, and it’s without a doubt a unique experience. If you want to enjoy something new, you should definitely give it a try. If the Queen likes it, it can’t be too bad, can it?