Very much a further step in the right direction, with a bit more polished herbal enhancement and a far better package that celebrates its return to its roots both literal and metaphorical.
Notes: Originally sold in 1846 in one of the many attempts to get French Foreign Legion Soldiers (or any other soldiers) to drink their medicine, in this case, quinine – for malaria and sundry other fevers – and as many others have the result entered the mainstream society long after the original purpose (other attempts include grog, absinthe, gin and tonics, and a host of Italian Amaros).
Dubonnet Rouge is undergoing a major facelift, or to be more trendy maybe I should say reboot. The “Grand Aperitif De France” since 1846 has always been an Iconic French Aperitif but like Noilly Pratt, it had an American(ized) version for export to America and certain other countries. Unlike the Noilly Pratt Extra Dry Vermouth ( the American clear white version of the otherwise yellow vermouth) which was a vast improvement ( at least for dry martinis), the American export version of Dubonnet was not. It gets even more complicated from there…
Dubonnet in Europe ( and yes, the UK too) is made by Pernod Ricard and uses a proprietary secret recipe, Dubonnet in the USA is made by Heaven Hill which is not part of Pernod Ricard but has the rights to make and distribute here. A similar situation to the Havana Club rum and Gruet Champagne dualities as it were but in this case a better outcome ( as in no insults or lawsuits were exchanged).
Dubonnet has been reimagined by Lynette House and some of the taste wizards at Heaven Hill to something much closer to the European model but interestingly different and tailored towards mixologists and Aperitif enthusiasts over here. The grapes have been replaced, the corn syrup is gone, and the quinine quotient has been enhanced. Also added are black currants ( as in Cassis) and black tea to the mix.
As a sidebar, Pernod Ricard and Heaven Hill, despite the fact that they own competing bourbons ( among other things) have a fairly amicable relationship regarding Dubonnet a child they somewhat co-parent as it were.
Dubonnet USA ( as we will call it) uses California Cabernet as opposed to Bordeaux grapes, has slightly higher alcohol content and a blend of herbs that are easier to pick out individually – all things that Americans seem to like and more tailored to their tastes and style> The French version ( as I remember it ) was a touch more dry and more harmonious in the herb and spice blend, almost a bit more like a mull rather than say a gin infusion. Both are excellent and I encourage comparison if you get a chance!
Appearance: Clear ruby red port color with no sediment or floaters. The bottle is too dark to candle (even with a tactical flashlight) so good news is it will not get light-struck I guess
First Impression: Plummy, jammy, currants/cassis with young (ruby) port-like notes, notes with a chinchona dusty leather tang and black tea notes. Sweet with slightly foxy undercurrent a touch like a marsala.
Taste: Very much want what the nose was promised, a much structured with more currant, fruit-forward with a cleaner, less muddy taste than the old version. Tea and more pronounced ( but not excessively so ) chinchona bump add some nice structure and bones of a flavor skeleton from which the grape and cassis notes can hang without getting flabby. I would, however, like it to have a more pronounced herbal profile, more vinous also. Also, the use of real cane sugar ( formerly corn syrup) tightens the structure and trims down the mouthfeel to a slightly leaner and more pronounced structure.
Drinks: A Dubonnet cocktail using this version is far more drinkable than the previous one. It can also be used in place of a vermouth such as Carpano Antica or Punt e Mes for a (rather) sweet Manhattan or similar application. Dubonnet Rouge is also a much closer analog of the European version for use in classic cocktails ( before the branching/deviation of the former versions from their French roots. And of course, you can enjoy it as an aperitif in and of itself or maybe with some soda water or a touch of your favorite bitters too for more ( and customized) complexity. A nicely refreshing and fairly lightweight cocktail or cocktail ingredient that will not overwhelm a cocktail or the drinker but play nicely.
Bottle: Much more traditional and old-school European chromolithograph type label ( the former one was 1990’s mod style) which harks back to the much older labels – including the iconic family cat. While it does not have the same printing quality as a chromolithograph, the overall effect is a traditional quality type of product and a reconnection to its original roots. Much better and far more iconic than the previous version.
Other: Dubonnet is an aromatized wine, and as such it will spoil. Buy a 375 ml (1/2 bottle) unless you use it a lot. Refrigerate after opening and get a new bottle after 4 months or so- you and your guests will appreciate the difference!
Final Thoughts: Very much a step in the right direction – back towards its original roots as it were with some more interesting and intriguing nuances and a far better packaging reflecting both its heritage and its new imagining. It just keeps getting better…
It could, however, benefit from some more herbal forward and more bitter forward punch to it, maybe a newer version that is more vinous and herbal. Maybe a special edition for the more jaded palette?
has been redone to reflect new product and packaging. Some information and recipes. Easy to navigate. Some sort of community (Instagram? twitter? ) page but no instructions as to joining it.Dubonnet Rouge