Ratafia de Champagne: the fortified wine that is making a comeback
As we all know, the good folk in the Champagne region have a talent for crafting very good champagne, but that's not the only beverage they know how to create. Let's take a look at another of them: Ratafia.
Ratafia de Champagne, also known as Ratafia Champenois, has been recognised and protected by an IGP (PGI - Protected Geographical Indication) designation since 22 January 2015 thanks to the efforts of the "Association des Producteurs de Boisson Spiritueuse à Indication Géographique Champenoise".
So, what exactly is Ratafia?
Ratafia is a wine whose fermentation has been stopped by the addition of spirit. It is therefore a fortified wine, which must meet precise specifications. For Ratafia Champenois, the musts come from grapes from Champagne vineyards that may be covered by the "Champagne" AOP (PDO). As for the spirits, they can be added alone or as part of a mixture (wine brandy, pomace brandy, wine distillate, etc.).
The spirit must have a sugar content of at least 110 g/l and an alcohol content of between 16% and 22%.
Ratafia, which can be produced as red or white wine, has decided to make itself better known to a wider public. It is therefore being revamped and travelling outside the borders of the Champagne region and off into international markets.
Its image has been dusted down and even made glamorous thanks to its use in cocktails and the emergence of new ratafias, each more distinctive than the last, courtesy of the Champagne Houses and independent producers. It is only produced in small quantities, representing one million bottles, and the focus is therefore very much on quality.
How is Ratafia Champenois made?
That’s a very good question! There are several important stages in the production of Ratafia:
1st stage: The harvest.
Harvest time comes around as it does every year in the Champagne region. The harvested grapes are taken to the presses where they are pressed to obtain grape must (juice).
2nd stage: The addition of the spirit.
For the production of champagne, the winemaker lets the must ferment until all the sugar has turned into alcohol. This is different for Ratafia: the fermentation of the must is deliberately stopped by the addition of a spirit of wine origin in order to retain the taste and freshness of the fruit. The alcohol is adjusted to reach about 18%.
3rd stage: The ageing process.
Once the spirit has been added, the ratafia must be aged for at least 10 months before being bottled. It can add the statement "vieux" or "très vieux" if it is aged in wood for at least 3 years or 8 years respectively. This ageing allows various different new aromas to develop.
4th stage: The drinking.
Lastly, we obtain a very fruity fortified wine, which has preserved the freshness of the grapes, accompanied by the aromas of the spirit.
Some ratafias you should try
To give you an overview of the aromatic palette offered by this PGI, here is a non-exhaustive selection of Ratafias to taste without further ado:
Distillerie Moutard - Ratafia sans soufre 16°
Made with Pinot Noir must from the Moutard estate directly blended with triple Fine Champenoise.
Champagne Collery - Ratafias Pinot Noir ; Chardonnay ; Rosé de saignée
The Collery house uses Fine Champenoise aged in Cognac and Sauternes barrels to which is added fresh grape juice.
Champagne René Geoffroy - Ratafia
The must is fortified during the harvest, with a blend of Fine Champenoise aged in oak barrels and press juice from the rosés de saignée. No fining or filtration.
Champagne Mouzon-Leroux - L'Exaltant
The musts used for the Ratafia L'Exaltant come 100% from Pinot Noirs from Verzy, Grand Cru.
Champagne Louis de Sacy - Le Louveteau
Domaine Adrien Renoir - Ratafia Champenois Solera
How do you drink Ratafia?
Serve chilled, dry, on the rocks, in cocktails, with the family, at a party, as an aperitif, with dessert, and even during the meal... There is no shortage of drinking occasions!
A white ratafia will be fabulous with cheese or even chocolate, while a red will go well with pan-fried foie gras, duck or melon.
If you want to learn more about Ratafia and how it can be used in cocktail making, check out the "Ratafia is getting a makeover!" article by our very own Pierre Guigui!