02/05/2014 04:39 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

In Season: Blood Orange

Contributed by Naren Young

I remember the first drink I had with juice from a blood orange. It was in Sydney circa 2000, and it was mixed by the sure hands of my friend Ben Davidson -- one of the finest barkeeps to emerge from Down Under.

The cocktail was a Blood Orange Margarita with just a whisper of Campari thrown into the mix, and it was nothing short of a revelation. So much so that I've, ahem, "borrowed" it for several different bar programs I've set up since. It's the kind of drink I know that everyone will like; it's that darn good.

The dark-crimson blood orange -- a mutant variety of the familiar juice orange whose flesh produces extra anthocyanin pigments -- is abundant right now. Perhaps because they're ripe for such a fleeting moment, blood oranges are among bartenders' most sought-after and anticipated ingredients. It's a sad day when the last one disappears from the market.

While I've sometimes found regular oranges to be rather boring in cocktails, offering little in the way of character or body (yes, the Bronx is a boring drink -- there, I said it), blood oranges, on the other hand, have a lovely richness and deeper flavor that lends itself to pairings with a wide range of spirits and liqueurs. The fruits often have subtle notes of raspberry, which means they marry beautifully with sparkling wine.

Blood oranges are the most common variety of orange grown in Italy (predominantly in Sicily) and are also very common throughout southern Spain and the U.S., notably in Texas and California. Depending on where they come from, blood orange season can last from November or December until the early spring, making this time of year the peak.

The fruit's flavor profile has become so popular in fact that William Grant & Sons introduced a blood orange liqueur from Sicily called Solerno a few years ago. And San Pellegrino's Aranciata Rossa soda is absolutely delicious, especially with a big slug of your favorite gin.

But while it's blood orange season, you need to use them fresh.

Get the recipes for the Blood Orange Margarita and three more blood orange cocktails from top bartenders on

Naren Young is the beverage director at New York's Empellón Cocina and Empellón Taqueria.