Finding the Claret Cup?

“He himself took a glass of some yellow liquid. It was some kind of a claret cup, he supposed. The little bubbles kept rising to the top and exploding. He watched them rise and explode.” From The Years by Virginia Woolf

I find that my current job requires me to spend much more time driving, so I’ve taken to listening to talking books. This past week it’s been The Years by Virginia Woolf, which covers the Pargiter family’s history from the 1880’s to the 1930’s told in an impressionist style. In the last chapter they are having a family party and are drinking something called a “claret cup” though her description seemed more like Champagne.

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A claret is usually the English word for a red wine from Bordeaux, so I was intrigued as well as confused. When I do a Google image search I get many photos of a stunningly beautiful cactus and a few tallboy glasses with something that looks like sangria over ice. Since Virginia Woolf is a precise writer, I felt there must be more to this mystery.

The typical recipe for claret cup is red wine with fruit juices, sugar and brandy or sherry, and my favorite was called the “classic” claret cup and was one bottle of Bordeaux, 4 oz Amontillado sherry, 2 oz Maraschino liqueur, thin cut rind of one lemon, superfine sugar and club soda. Very much like a sangria but with sherry and bubbles that come from club soda. Some of the other recipes used pisco or amaretto or Grand Marnier, so there was some flexibility as far as ingredients, but no golden color.

Upon further research I do find the “white wine cup” which was made using a White Burgundy or White Bordeaux. Perhaps this is what her character North was drinking, and since he’d spent some years in Africa after The Great War, he may not have known the precise term or there may have been a tendency at one time, in the thirties, where the term “claret” was applied to both the red and white forms of Bordeaux wine. I wondered if they were spelling it differently using a white wine called “clairette” but when I found the passage online I could see the original spelling was “claret.”

Well, this white wine cup sounded intriguing so I researched that recipe. The first one (from the same source as above, Esquire magazine) came up using a bottle of White Burgundy, or Chardonnay, though it could work just as well with a White Bordeaux. Here is the recipe:

1 bottle of White Burgundy (“or a dryish Graves,” which is White Bordeaux)

4 oz of Sherry (Amontillado or Cream)

1 oz Brandy

1 oz Anisette

Rind of 1 lemon

Superfine sugar

1 liter of Club soda

Mint

Pineapple

In a punch bowl mix the wine, liqueurs, lemon rind, club soda and sugar (not too much sugar, only “to taste”).  Add some cubes of ice (“a brick or two”) and garnish with thin slices of pineapple and sprigs of mint. Serve in punch cups and enjoy this historical refreshment.

I can think of a number of White Bordeaux that would make our White Claret Cup perfect, so try Rothschild White Bordeaux, or Rauzan Despagne or, from Entre Deux Mers, Chateau Martinon. Any of these would make an excellent base for this 19th Century concoction. If you like it sweeter use the Cream Sherry, like Harvey’s Bristol Cream. If you like more citrus, then an orange brandy like Triple Sec or Cointreau would also work. The anisette gives a subtle herbal, licorice note that harmonizes with the sprig of mint providing a little more complexity.

Next time you discover a new drink in a novel, make it! Cheers!

Daniel Eddy, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits wine and spirits supervisor

Follow me on Twitter @ABCwineDanE

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