I’ve collected texts on wine and spirits for years and Peter Dominic’s WineMine quarterly form the 1960’s and 1970’s has become my new obsession. WineMine may have been some of the first advanced foodie writing. The culture that Dominic and others like Andre Simon created is likely responsible for our modern world of fine wines. They educated people on fine wine and developed a market for it. Prices of wines they highly regarded skyrocketed and eventually other producers raised their quality to participate in this new fine wine market. The world of wine eventually fell into it. Once great wines were finally recognized and competed for, the investment required to make more of them across the globe was put into place.
WineMine was more than just about wine. it is also about food and travel and humor. The articles are still wildly interested after so many decades. The writing also gives us an excellent look at spirits and liqueurs of the era especially in then far flung places like rural france.
I’ll start to point out the highlights in a haphazard way and maybe even re-type the good bits. Journalist James Cameron has written my favorite article so far in issue #24 winter of 1972.
The first article that needs attention is A La Votre by retired journalist Joe Hollander from issue #25 from 1973. Hollander retired to rural France and writes of Provencal drinks “both above and below the legal line”.
Above the legal line:
“As for aperitifs and digestifs, apart from intensely publicized products like Dubonnet, St. Raphael and Byrrh, and Benedictine and Chartreuse, the floridly labelled bottles of Banyuls, Grenache and Muscat, all naturally sweet wines, and of Verveine de Velay, Izzara, Mandarin, Ambassadeur and other imaginative designations, are seldom disturbed from their resting places behind the bar and their labels would appear to serve mainly a decorative purpose. I have never yet seen anyone order a Suze (based on Gentian bitters), or a Bonal, prepared with Peruvian quinquina bark.
Below the legal line:
“Throughout the Midi there’s a more or less universal, if not exactly legal, cottage production of spirituous beverages going on behind the shutters of village houses.”
“Like most country women, Madame Allegre has probably never bought a bottle of branded aperitif or liqueur over the counter in her life. Nor have I ever seen a Vin de Noix, a Vin de Marquis, or a Peach Leaf aperitif served in any auberge, bar, bistrot, brasserie, buvette, cafe, estaminet, guingette or tavern in France–to say nothing of a liqueur 44, made of oranges and 44 coffee beans!”
“Madame Allegre take two average-size oranges, chiseling their skins so that she can insert 22 coffee beans between the peel and pulp of each. She then steeps the larded oranges in one litre of Eau-de-Vie, together with 22 lumps of No 3 size sugar (the popular domino-shaped sucre de Marseille) and a stick of vanilla. She keeps this infusion going for 44 days (that magic number again!), shaking it from time to time until the sugar is completely dissolved. She then removes the orange, presses them and pours back the juice they yield into the liqueur mixture, which can then be bottled and stored in a cool place.”
“For her Vin de Noix, seven walnuts are first steeped in a litre of Eau-de-Vie to produce the basic cordial. A quarter litre of this extract, together with 15 to 20 lumps of sugar, are then mixed with one litre of good red wine to yield two pints of Walnut Wine. The heart-warming thought is that you still have enough basic cordial in reserve to make another eight bottles.”
“The Widow Audibert, Madame Allegre’s neighbor, specializes in making a Vin de Marquis, otherwise known as Vin d’Orange. There are multiple variations of the formula; some use only the orange peel, some use the whole orange, flesh, pips and juice, others add one or more lemons. The wine used can be a robust red, white, or rose; eau-de-vie or cognac in varying quantities is essential, so is sugar. By experimenting, I have found the recipe A la Veuve Audibert to be not only excellent but the most economical.
Five whole, and preferably bitter, oranges cut up into the smallest possible chunks, with a lemon given the same treatment, are popped into a large glass or earthenware receptacle (I use a 10-litre glass bonbonne which I can cork) to which is added a kilogram, say 2/1/4 lb, of ordinary white lump sugar (some specify granulated sugar; others advocate pure cane sugar), then five litres of good red wine and one litre of eau-de-vie. Final additives are a stick or two of vanilla and a baby’s fistful of quinquina or Peruvian bark, obtainable from a chemist or herbalist.
Shake the receptacle well and repeat this at least once a day for a fortnight–but a month is preferably better. Using a large wire kitchen strainer to collect the orange debris, I then decant into bottles and find that I then have over six litres, or eight pint bottles, of first-class aperitif or dessert wine for around 30 francs (about £2.50) which is good going in any currency.
An Antillaise, based on a recipe that the Widow Audibert’s son brought back from Guadaloupe, requires strips of the skins of two fresh tangerines and one orange to be placed in a small bottle, together with a stick of vanilla, split and cut into small pieces, all then being covered with a quantity of rum taken from a litre bottle. Let this mixture infuse for a fortnight, then add the resulting extract to the remaining rum and a syrup made by boiling 1/2 kilo of sugar in a slightly lesser volume of water for ten minutes.”