What is Dubonnet? A Guide to the Aperitif’s Origins and Flavor Profile

If you enjoy aperitifs, you may be familiar with Dubonnet. Dubonnet is a quinquina made from sweet, aromatized wine that is frequently consumed as an aperitif.

dubonnet wine pouring into wine glass, close-up

It consists of a mixture of fortified wine, herbs, and spices (along with a little dose of quinine), with the addition of alcohol to prevent fermentation. Pernod Ricard produces Dubonnet in France, and Heaven Hill Brands does so in the US.

A multitude of ways can be used to enjoy dubonnet, which is a flexible beverage. It can be sipped neat, over ice, or blended into drinks. The Queen’s preferred cocktail is the Dubonnet and gin, which is the most often consumed Dubonnet-based beverage.

Dubonnet, gin, and a lemon slice are used to make it. The beverage is simple to prepare and suitable for consumption at any time of day.

What is Dubonnet?

If you’re a wine lover, you might have heard of Dubonnet. This fortified and aromatized wine from France is made from red wine, brandy, and various spices.

Dubonnet is known for its unique flavor profile and is enjoyed as an aperitif, a digestif, or an ingredient in different cocktails.

Dubonnet’s history is as fascinating as its flavor. It was created in 1846 by Joseph Dubonnet, a French chemist who was looking for a way to make quinine more palatable for French Foreign Legion soldiers stationed in North Africa.

a close up of dubonnet wine in wine glass

Quinine was used to prevent malaria, but it had a bitter taste that made it difficult to consume. Joseph Dubonnet created a mixture of fortified wine, herbs, and spices, and added a small amount of quinine to it. The result was a drink that was both palatable and effective in preventing malaria.

Dubonnet is currently produced in France by Pernod Ricard, a leading producer of wines and spirits. The company has been making Dubonnet since 1976. Dubonnet is also produced in the United States by Heaven Hill Brands.

Dubonnet is intensely sweet and has a thick, almost syrupy texture. It tastes sweet and fruity with hints of spices, comparable to sweet vermouth.

The best way to drink it is chilled, as an aperitif or digestif. However, Dubonnet is also an excellent ingredient in mixed drinks, especially in combination with gin.

History of Dubonnet

Dubonnet is a sweet, aromatised wine-based quinquina that has been enjoyed as an aperitif for over 150 years. It was created by Joseph Dubonnet, a French chemist, in 1846.

Close-up shot of young sommelier smell red wine on wine cellar background

Dubonnet was originally intended as a way to make quinine more palatable for French Foreign Legion soldiers stationed in North Africa. Quinine was used to combat malaria, but it had a bitter taste that made it difficult to swallow.

Dubonnet’s blend of fortified wine, herbs, and spices, including a small amount of quinine, made it a more pleasant alternative to the bitter quinine tonic.

Dubonnet quickly became popular in France, and by the turn of the century, it was being exported to the United States. During the Prohibition era, Dubonnet was one of the few alcoholic beverages that could be legally imported into the United States for medicinal purposes.

Dubonnet’s popularity continued to grow throughout the 20th century, and it became a favorite of many notable figures, including Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, was a fan of Dubonnet and gin. She was known to enjoy a Dubonnet and gin cocktail before lunch every day, a drink that has since been named after her.

The Queen Mother’s cocktail is made with two parts Dubonnet and one part gin, served over ice with a slice of lemon.

Queen Elizabeth II is also said to be a fan of Dubonnet, and it is rumored to be one of her favorite drinks. Dubonnet was even served at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

In 1976, Dubonnet was acquired by Pernod Ricard, a French company that specializes in wine and spirits.

Today, Dubonnet is still produced in France by Pernod Ricard, and it is also produced in the United States by Heaven Hill Brands. Dubonnet continues to be a popular aperitif and cocktail ingredient around the world.

The Ingredients of Dubonnet

Dubonnet is a sweet, aromatized wine-based quinquina that is enjoyed as an aperitif. It is made from a blend of fortified wine, herbs, and spices, with fermentation being stopped by the addition of alcohol. Here are the key ingredients that make up this unique drink:

close-up of cinnamon sticks
  • Fortified wine: Dubonnet is made from a blend of fortified wines, including red wine, sherry, and muscat of Alexandria. The fortified wine is made by adding a distilled spirit, such as brandy, to the wine to increase its alcohol content and to help preserve it.
  • Herbs and spices: Dubonnet contains a variety of herbs and spices, including cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. These ingredients give the drink its unique flavor and aroma.
  • Quinine: Quinine is a bitter compound that is extracted from the bark of the cinchona tree. It is added to Dubonnet in small amounts to give the drink a slightly bitter taste and to help balance out the sweetness.
  • Cane sugar: Cane sugar is added to Dubonnet to sweeten the drink and to help balance out the bitterness of the quinine.
  • Cabernet and Rubired grapes: Dubonnet is made from a blend of red wines, including Cabernet and Rubired grapes. These grapes give the drink its rich, fruity flavor.
  • Blackcurrant: Dubonnet Rouge, the most popular variety of Dubonnet, contains blackcurrant flavoring. This gives the drink a slightly fruity taste and aroma.
  • Quinquina: Quinquina is a type of aromatized wine that is made by adding quinine to wine. Dubonnet is classified as a quinquina because it contains quinine.

Varieties of Dubonnet

Dubonnet comes in two main varieties: Dubonnet Rouge and Dubonnet Blanc. The Rouge variety is the most commonly known and consumed, while the Blanc variety is a more recent addition to the Dubonnet family.

Dubonnet Rouge is a sweet, red, fortified wine made from a blend of grape varieties including Ruby Red, Cabernet, and Muscat of Alexandria.

It is flavored with herbs, spices, and a small amount of quinine, and has an alcohol content of 14.8%. Dubonnet Rouge is typically consumed as an aperitif or digestif, and is often used as an ingredient in cocktails.

Dubonnet Blanc, on the other hand, is a white, fortified wine that was introduced in the 1960s. It is made from a blend of Muscat grapes and other white wine varieties, and is flavored with herbs and spices.

Bunches of rose muscat grapes on the vine

Dubonnet Blanc has a lighter, more floral taste than its red counterpart, and is often consumed as an aperitif.

In addition to the two main varieties, Dubonnet also produces a Ruby Red variety that is made exclusively from Ruby Red grapes. This variety has a more intense, fruity flavor than the traditional Dubonnet Rouge.

When it comes to serving Dubonnet, there are a few different ways to enjoy it. Dubonnet Rouge is often served over ice with a slice of lemon or orange, while Dubonnet Blanc is typically served chilled.

Both varieties can also be used in cocktails, with the Dubonnet cocktail being the most well-known. This classic cocktail combines Dubonnet Rouge with gin and a dash of bitters, and is garnished with a twist of lemon.

How to Drink Dubonnet

Dubonnet is a versatile drink that can be enjoyed in many ways. Here are some tips on how to drink Dubonnet:

Friends holding glasses of dubonnet wine at table

As an Aperitif

Dubonnet is a great aperitif that can be enjoyed on its own or mixed with other ingredients. To drink Dubonnet as an aperitif, serve it chilled in a coupe glass or a cocktail glass. Add a few ice cubes and a slice of lemon to enhance the flavor.

In Cocktails

Dubonnet is a popular ingredient in many cocktails. It pairs well with gin, dry gin, and sweet vermouth. To make a Dubonnet cocktail, mix equal parts Dubonnet and gin in a mixing glass with ice cubes. Stir well and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Nutritional Facts

Dubonnet is a fortified wine that contains about 16% alcohol by volume (ABV). It is made from a red wine base, brandy, and various spices.

Dubonnet is not a low-calorie drink, as it contains about 140 calories per 3.5 oz serving. However, it is gluten-free and vegan-friendly.

Please drink responsibly, be fully accountable with your alcohol consumption, and show others respect.

Written by Paul Kushner

I have always had a deep interest in the restaurant and bar industry. My restaurant experience began in 1997 at the age of 14 as a bus boy. By the time I turned 17 I was serving tables, and by 19 I was bartending/bar managing 6-7 nights a week.

In 2012, after a decade and a half of learning all facets of the industry, I opened my first restaurant/bar. In 2015, a second location followed, the latter being featured on The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

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