Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dubonnet: Holiday Drink of Champions

I recently learned that Queen Elizabeth II favors the French wine-based spirit Dubonnet as an aperitif. Dubbonet happens to one of my favorite drinks before a meal and something of a Seidell holiday tradition.

French restaurants packed Chicago in the 70s, and the Francophile trend trickled into my family via a French chef neighbor. He taught my parents the art of cooking a steak, how to choose a good red wine, and introduced them to lovely Dubonnet. At some point (when I was old enough to drink it) Dubonnet became a Christmas tradition and part of the way we indulged in our non-Jewish side around the holidays. It didn't feel like Christmas until we had a glass of Dubonnet on the rocks in hand, noshing on crackers and cheese amid the glow of twinkling Christmas tree lights next to a crackling fire.

In later years, while living on the Continent, I deepened my knowledge about aperitifs with Martini Bianco and Camapari. Dubonnet exudes so much class it's hidden away most of the time. Yet despite this fact it remains the number one selling aperitif in the United States. Where do these mysterious Dubonnet drinkers hide?

No frills preparation: serve chilled over blocks of ice in a tumbler and sip slowly while nibbling on hor' dourves. Queen Elizabeth II prefers her Dubonnet in the form of a cocktail (also known as Zaza , or Dubonnet cocktail). The Queen Mother preferred to drink it on the rocks, as do I.

Dubonnet contains a smooth, sweet composition. Chemist and wine merchant Joseph Dubonnet invented the drink in 1846 in his attempt to make quinine drinkable to soldiers battling malaria in North Africa. It typically contains notes of both fruits and nuts, and with 19 percent alcohol it's a guaranteed party please. Versatile, to boot: the port-like quality perfect for winter and the easy-over-ice element nice for summer sips.

If you're looking for something to compliment your Thanksgiving soiree, I highly recommend picking up a bottle.

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