Wines, Spirits and Liqueurs A – C
Literally ‘Abbot’s liqueur’, this is a herb-based liqueur, of aromatic style, made in Germany, and popular as a digestive.
Invented by Dr Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert who, after serving against Napoleon, went to Venezuela, where he was in charge of a hospital at Angostura (later renamed Cuidad Bolivar). In 1824 he invented an Amaro A romdtico for digestive disorders. Some confusion has arisen about the name, but in fact the bark of the Venezuelan Angostura tree has nothing to do with the formula: this is still a secret in the possession of the Siegert family. Mark Twain refers to Angostura Bitters in a letter to his wife from London in 1874. Angostura sales boomed in the U.S. under Prohibition, because the bitters were classed as medicinal’ and could be sold. It can be used to improve the flavour of certain sauces, salad dressings and gravies, as well as for ‘pink gin’ and in Champagne cocktails.
The word comes from the Latin aperire – to open, hence it has been associated with the drink at the opening of a meal. A good aperitif should stimulate the appetite and prepare the palate for what is to be served. Obviously a wide variety of drinks can be served as aperitifs, including sparkling wines, dry white or rose wines, spirits, cocktails and certain liqueurs that are not too sweet, such as those containing aniseed. More specifically, commercial aperitifs are usually wine-based drinks, with particular flavourings, such as Dubonnet. St Raphael, Lillet and all the vermouths.
Originally a mixed aperitif, consisting of about one-third Campari bitters to two-thirds sweet vermouth, diluted with soda if liked. It must always be well stirred, so that the Campari mixes with the vermouth. The garnish should be a slice of orange, not the usual lemon. Nowadays several firms market ready-mixed Americano, but I have never found any except that of Gaudin (based on Chambery vermouth) to be satisfactory, as they tend to be sweetish and sticky. A good Americano, properly made, is an excellent and refreshing drink.
A type of sweet oloroso sherry, taking its name from that of a well-known vineyard. As a term, amoroso tends to be less used nowadays, as this type of wine is generally categorised as a cream sherry.
Young sherry of one vintage, kept separately and not yet blended with other sherries. It seldom remains like this for more than a couple of years.
Red Sardinian wine, which appears to be sweetish in style and above table wine strength, so that it is often drunk as an aperitif or after meals. The name means ‘red angel’.
Liqueur flavoured with angelica, made in various places. The East German version is called krambambuli; there is also one made in France, called Liqueur d’Angelique, based on Cognac. The herb gets its name – in Latin Angelica archangelica – because it is said to flower on 8 May, St Michael’s Day.
German liqueur, based on angelica, a plant which gets its name because it was supposed to be ‘of the archangel’, and helpful as a preventative against the plague. There are several types made in different parts of the world including Spain and California, but the German type is slightly bitter and is mostly used as an ingredient in mixed drinks.
Anise del Mono
Spanish aniseed liqueur, which may be dry or sweet, made in Barcelona.
Not, as might be assumed, anything to do with apples, but a German liqueur, based on oranges.
The American name for apple brandy, somewhat equivalent to Calvados. Since early times the New England region has made this spirit, usually by a double distillation in a pot still. The distillate is broken down with water and matured in oak.
These are made in many countries and strictly they should be made by distilling fermented apricots and the kernels when the result will be pure white. In fact many good types are produced by macerating the fruit in brandy and possibly adding the extract of the kernels, when the liquid will be orange-coloured. Well-known brands are Marie Brizard’s Apry, Garnier’s Abricotine, but most liqueur establishments make an apricot liqueur. The white type, often found in eastern Europe, is exemplified by the Hungarian Barack Palinka.
There is a saying about Arbois wines that ‘The more you drink, the more upright you stand’. But there’s another one to the effect that ‘One only drinks a glass at a time of the good wine of Arbois’.
One of the world’s great brandies, made in the Gers (pronounced ‘Jair’) departement in the south-west of France. This was formerly the province of Gascony, homeland of D’Artagnan. The region is now strictly delimited into the regions of Tenareze. Haut-Armagnac and Bas-Armagnac, (the latter usually considered the best) and production is rigidly controlled. A mixture of grapes are used, some of them the same as those used for Cognac, other peculiar to the Pyrenees. A special type of still is used, many of these travelling about the region. A single distillation is made and this must be done by the April following the wines’ vintage. The period of maturation takes place in casks of local oak.
The different firms – none of them as large as the Cognac concerns – use their own system of grading their Armagnacs according to age and quality but a XXX or three star Armagnac will be 3 years old, a V.O. from 5 to 10. a V.S.O.P. from 10 to 15. Hors d’age means that the brandy is at least 25 years old but, after about 30 years in wood, the Armagnac tends to get too ‘spirity’. The bottle often used is the flattish. squat, flagon type, known as a basquaise. but other shapes are also used.
Some people mistakenly suppose that Armagnac is ‘weaker’ than Cognac. but this is not so – it is a brandy, and may be made according to the strength required. What is usually true is that Armagnac tends to be gentler in character than most Cognac, and some people consider it ‘feminine’ as a brandy. whereas Cognac is ‘masculine*. It has a pronounced but delicate aroma, quite different from any Cognac. It is drunk all over the world, but in the U.K.. where appreciation of fine Cognac possibly affects the market for Armagnac it is not very widely known, although those who do. like it very much. As with all fine brandy, Armagnac should be served in glasses that are of a size to be cupped in the hand and these should never be artificially heated over a flame. A newish drink, called the Pousse Rapiere (sword thrust) consists of a measure of Armagnac. topped up with the very dry local sparkling wine of the Gers and garnished with a slice of orange. the peel twisted over the brandy to give added zest.
Cusenier’s white digestive, found by some to be slightly easier to swallow than Fernet Branca.
(Many variant spellings) The word comes from the Arabic, meaning ‘sweat’ or ‘juice’. This is a spirit, usually of coarse type, which may be distilled from a variety of things – dates, palm sap, rice, milk, sugar-cane, etc. – in the Middle and Far Eastern countries. Variations on its name include raki.
The best-known sparkling wine of Italy, produced in Piedmont, mostly around Canelli and Asti. It is made from the Moscato or Muscat grape, mostly by means of a combination of the Charmat and transfer methods plus individual variations, due largely to Carlo Gancia. It is ready to drink when the bottles are offered for sale which is why it does not bear a vintage date. It is fairly definitely scented and ‘grapey’ in flavour. It should be served like any quality sparkling wine, chilled, and in a goblet or tulip glass. Asti Spumante may be drunk at any time, but is especially enjoyable with ices, any Italian type of cake, and fresh fruit or fruit salad. It may also be served with first courses, especially those rich in mayonnaise, as the fruitiness of the wine ‘cuts’ the richness of the sauce. A number of widely reputed establishments make good Asti. The bottles carry a seal showing the patron saint, San Secundo, and the name of the local consorzio.
A mixture of whisky, oatmeal, honey and cream, combined -for the commercial product – according to a secret formula. There are many recipes for the making of Atholl Brose, and that of the ducal family of Atholl does not include cream. The legends associated with its making are at least as old as the 15th century and it is traditional as a New Year drink, being piped into the messof the Argyll and Sutherland Highlandersat that time, with every officer and man having a quaich of it.
B. and B.
This is Benedictine and brandy, ready-mixed in the commercial version, or you can make up your own.
This is a brand name, and not just a type of white rum, but it is one of the most important in the world. Originally made in Cuba, it is now made in a number of countries, including Spain; but all the Bacardi drunk in the U.K. is imported from Nassau in the Bahamas.
Literally’the liqueur to catch bears’ – because this golden-yellow liqueur, from East Prussia, is based on honey.
This is, strictly, a sweetish wine from the western Mediterranean French coast; but it can also be used as a generic name for sweetish wine-based aperitifs and vins doux naturels.
Piedmont red wine, made near the town of the same name in Italy from the Nebbiolo grape. Full, slightly soft (when mature) and generally pleasant.
Wine from the Veneto region of Italy from vineyards extending along Lake Garda, made from the Corvina and Negrara grapes, plus Molinara and Rondinella, it is a bright red in colour, with great charm because of its fresh, supple character. Its crisp, appealing fragrance is particularly delightful if it is not served tepid. It was a favourite of the early 20th century caricaturist and writer, Max Beerbohm.
One of the greatest red wines of Italy made in the commune of Barolo in southern Piedmont, and entirely from the Nebbiolo grape. It iscapable of great improvement with age, and some people liken it to a red Burgundy. But, although it has the same sort of gentle, expansive style, it is quite different, slightly tougher and more initially assertive, with a curious fragrance that has been known to remind commentators of tar and violets. Its alcoholic strength can reach the upper limits for table wines.
Full, robust red wine from Valencia, in Spain, formerly often used to augment even fine clarets and give them the sort of taste liked by the undiscriminating public.
This liqueur was evolved in 1510 by the Benedictine monk, Dom Bernardo Vincelli, at Fecamp in Normandy. It became famous as a medicine against malaria, then prevalent around the monastery in the swampy countryside. Although the Abbey at Fecamp was destroyed in the French Revolution, the recipe was preserved and the liqueur is still made in the rebuilt establishment. It is a type of digestive. The initials D.O.M., on every bottle, stand for Deo Optimo Maximo (To God most good, most great).
Lightly alcoholic drink, of a fizzy type, based on raspberries, and usually served in a glass rather like a gigantic Champagne saucer.
German liqueur based on bergamot, an aromatic herb often used in drinks. It is yellowish-green in colour and slightly citrus-flavoured.
German pear liqueur.
This is a hot drink, consisting of port, simmered with an orange stuck with cloves and slightly sweetened. Lemon, ginger, cinnamon and allspice can also be added to taste. For Cardinal, claret is substituted for the port; for Pope, Champagne is used.
As the name implies, bitter tasting drinks which are usually assumed to have tonic or slightly medicinal properties. The most famous are possibly Angostura, Campari, Under berg, Ferro China and Fernet Branca. Bitters are well known as pick-me-ups but, in Italy, the huge range of them available is not only due to their digestive properties but because many Italians believe them to have aphrodisiac properties. Bitters are sometimes merely used as additives to other drinks. The older word for bitters is elixir which is why Martini & Rossi’s brand name for their bitters is ‘Elixir Martini’.
Literally ‘bitter drops’, this German herb liqueur is used to season mixed drinks.
Half-and-half Champagne and Guinness. Scorned by some, it is nevertheless a nourishing and comforting sort of drink. It is also sometimes known as a ‘Bismarck’. Cyril Ray says it was first made at Brook’s Club in London.
A red wine made in the Cote de Beaune. Not to be confused with Meursault-Blagny, which is a white wine from the same region.
Red Italian wine from the Novara Hills in Piedmont, made with a high proportion of the Nebbiolo grape (called Spanna in this area). The wine benefits greatly from maturation in bottle, when it achieves considerable quality.
The full name of this red wine is Bonarda dell’Oltrepo Pavese and it comes from Lombardy in Italy.
This is an eau-de-vie made from figs, served as either an aperitif or liqueur in Tunisia and other north African countries. It is sometimes referred to as Mahia.
The best-known still red wine of the Champagne region, for obvious reasons. But Bouzy makes still whites as well as reds, now both categorised as Coteaux Champenois.
A German liqueur made from the juice of ripe blackberries.
Honey and herb liqueur, made in Yorkshire.
Tuscan red wine, the full name of which is Brunello di Montalcino. It is made from the Brunello grape, a type of Sangiovese, and is very full-bodied and ample in character, capable of maturing for a long time both in wood and bottle and developing much quality. Some people consider a good Brunello to be one of Italy’s greatest wines.
A brandy is made from, and even with, this herb, something of a speciality of the Paarl region of the Cape. South Africa. It is extremely pungent and is recommended as a digestive, a lotion for wounds, bruises and apparently almost any ill.
Sweetish, herby Spanish digestive liqueur.
Apple brandy, distilled from a mash of apples, fermented with yeast, subjected to two distillations and thereafter matured in oak for 6 to 10 years, according to the regulations that control its production in Normandy. The Calvados of the Vallee d’Auge has its own A.O.C. It has been made from about the 16th century in the region. Its use is either as a digestive at the end of a meal or, in Normandy, to make the trou (hole) normande.
In the U.S. the spirit is referred to as ‘applejack’. A type of apple spirit can be made wherever apples are extensively cultivated. Calvados should not be confused with eau-de-vie-de-cidre, which is a spirit actually distilled from cider, something rarely met with nowadays.
Evolved by Gaspare Campari in Milan in 1867. used in many mixtures, but also widely drunk with soda. A drink including Campari should always be stirred, as even the addition of soda is not enough to mix it in the glass. The garnish of an Americano should ideally be a slice of orange, not lemon.
A wine-based aperitif, dark reddish-brown, with a slight smell and taste of vanilla. Medium fruity, medium sweet in taste. It is made near Bastia, in Corsica.
Red wine from Sardinia.
Red, white and pink wines are labelled with the name of this Italian island, but a lot comes from Ischia, Procida and the mainland of Italy. The white wine, slightly minerally in flavour with quite a fresh smell, is possibly the best known and most highly esteemed.
Australian liqueur made from tropical fruits.
Czech digestive liqueur, not to be confused with the Danish beer establishment of the same name.
Piedmont red wine from a commune of the same name north of Turin, in Italy, which appears to be good when it has attained sufficient maturity in bottle. It is recommended that it should be opened several hours in advance of being drunk.
Green-yellow herby liqueur, formerly produced in Bordeaux by Secrestat, not now made.
Literally ‘blackcurrant’. A liqueur made from blackcurrants is a Burgundy speciality, particularly around Dijon. It is very sweet and fruity and is used for flavouring sweets and ices. In other countries a similar type of liqueur may be made. Strict controls are exercised in the production of cassis. Most firms make a range, at different strengths: 14° for the more usual and kitchen purposes, 15° or more for creme de cassis. 20° for what may be termed supercassis” or ‘double creme’