Making orange wine is the easiest thing in the world but, as I discovered, it takes an infinite amount of patience.

First, go to a Bigarade* Festival in the dead of winter and enjoy the pageantry, the artisanal foods and other activities.  Such festivals happen in many towns along the Mediterranean, the one near me is in the medieval village of La Caunette. Never mind that the oranges are not grown in the said village — that’s beside the point.

*bigarades are bitter oranges also know as Seville oranges.

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Buy lots of oranges (not much to do around here in February, you might as well pick up extras to make marmalade and jam)

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Now for the recipe; sorry no how-to pictures — I had sticky hands.

There are many variations to orange wine; some recipes include sweet liqueurs such as Grand Marnier, others are spiced up with cinnamon or cloves, some use rosé wine instead of white, etc.  This particular one is a very good straight-forward family recipe.  I’m posting the original recipe and my changes, as I reduced the amount of sugar by 200 grams. I personally prefer orange wines with a little more tartness than sweetness that are reminiscent of the sweet bitterness of grapefruit; I found them to be a refreshing drink to serve as an aperitif or after-dinner drink. Not everybody agrees with me, if you’re not sure use the full amount of sugar.

What you need:

  • 8 large untreated Seville oranges or more depending on the size (about 2.5lb)
  • 2 untreated lemons
  • 4 litres (about 1 gallon) dry white wine (the best inexpensive white wine you can find)
  • 1 litre (about 1 quart) 80 proof clear unflavored alcohol  such as Vodka
  • 1 to 2 vanilla beans, split in half
  • 1 kilo (about 2 lb) sugar (I used 800 gr, about 1.7 lb)
  • 1 2-gallon plastic jug or 2 1-gallon jugs thoroughly wasted and dry

Wash and scrub the citrus.  Cut into very small pieces, it will be easier to add them to  the jug and more importantly to discard them at the end of the marinating. Drop the citrus pieces into the jug and slide in the sugar and the vanilla beans. Using a funnel, add the wine and alcohol. If using more than 1 jug, divide the fruit, sugar and liquids evenly among the 2.

Shake vigorously and place in a dark cool place for at least 50 days or more – I kept mine for 21/2 months.  You should visit your jug and shake it to redistribute the content periodically. I did it every 2 days for the first month and then once every 2 weeks.

Meanwhile, start collecting and recycling your bottles of white wines. Clear bottles are best — your prefect wine will show better. They should be carefully washed and dried. Buy new corks. You can also use screw top bottles such as gin, vodka or whisky; in that case you can keep the tops.

When you think the wine is ready to be decanted, pour it through a fine mesh strainer into a large clean bucket.

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Then, line a funnel with 5 layers of cheesecloth. I used a sturdy paper filter specially designed for decanting wine. Do not use coffee filters, they are too flimsy. Carefully ladle the wine, a little at the time, into the funnel and let it drip into the bottle.  Cork the bottle as soon as it is filled. This may take several hours depending on the number of bottles to be filled and the number of funnels you own.  I did a double batch of the recipe and filtered 11 bottles through the only one I have —  it took the entire day! Next year, I’m definitely  investing in a couple of funnels.

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The idea is to have as little residual pulp as possible to avoid a new fermentation in the bottle and end up with a fizzy wine.
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Label the bottles, make sure to include the year. If properly stored, the wine will keep for several years and will get better with age. And, if you make a batch every year, it’s always fun to compare vintages.

Now the bad news: before you can start enjoying this very fragrant wine,  it needs to be stored in a dark cool place for at least a month to let the flavors mellow.

It is best served chilled; I’m planning to keep a bottle in the frige throughout the summer for impromptu aperitifs.

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