As you might imagine, Christmas is a special time of year at Albourne Estate. With the wine tasting weekends being held in December we like to kick off the festivities early with servings of delicious mulled wine made with our very own Albourne Estate 40 Vermouth.
Whilst this time of year is synonymous with cocktails and mulled wine, Christmas traditions have evolved over the years. The Romans celebrated the midwinter festival of Saturnalia from 17th December with up to seven days of parties and public ceremonies at which a great deal of wine might be served. During the medieval period monasteries spent vast sums of money on wines imported from France to be drunk during the Christmas period, as an indulgent change to the ale more regularly consumed. Wassailing became a tradition during Tudor times with toasts drunk to the fruit trees supposedly to ensure a good crop the following year. Large wooden bowls would be filled with hot ale or cider mixed with sugar, spices and apples with bread at the bottom and passed around. The Wassailing tradition continued into the Georgian era with the spiced ale, more closely resembling the mulled wine that we know today, passed round as guests toasted one another. Still enjoying a wassail punch, the Victorians liked to accompany their elaborate Christmas meals with warm brandy and mulled wine. By the 1930s wealthy families were also enjoying cocktails at Christmas. The Strand newspaper from 1930 published festive cocktail recipes that included the sidecar (made from lemon juice, Cointreau and brandy) as well as Champagne punch and eggnog.
These days vermouth is not only served as an aperitif but also as a frequent ingredient in many festive cocktails. Often mistakenly thought of as a spirit, Vermouth is in fact a fortified wine which means it must consist of a minimum of 75% grape-derived wine, fortified to between 14.5% and 22% alcohol via the addition of pure spirit. In contrast, spirits such as gin or vodka are distilled and typically contain around 40% alcohol. Always sweetened and ‘flavoured’ by the addition of botanicals, one of which must be wormwood, the name vermouth derives from the German word for wormwood, vermut. Fortified wines containing wormwood were drunk in Germany as far back as the 16th century as it was believed that wormwood was effective in treating stomach disorders and parasites. In fact the Ancient Greeks used wine infused with herbs and roots for medicinal purposes. In the late 18th century a sweet vermouth was introduced in Turin, Italy whilst a dry, pale vermouth was developed by a Frenchman, Joseph Noilly, around 1800.
The 40 Vermouth made here at Albourne Estate is a blend of our own wine, giving it its’ distinct Sussex flavour and over 40 botanicals. Whilst not prepared to give away our secret recipe, it does include botanicals such as thyme, rosemary and wormwood soon to be grown on the Estate. Other botanicals often used in vermouth can include spices such as clove, cinnamon and ginger; flowers including chamomile, rose and lavender; fruits such as citrus peels and juniper berries and a whole selection of herbs. The perfect addition to any Christmas drinks cabinet, its’ versatility means that it is delicious served on its’ own, chilled over ice, as an aperitif, or as a partner in a variety of cocktails. Beautifully designed and with its’ own gift box, Albourne Estate’s 40 Vermouth makes the ideal Christmas present.