Ratafia is getting a makeover!

Sep 14, 2020 • 3 mins

Grandpa’s favourite tipple is fast becoming a hip beverage in Paris bars thanks to a handful of dedicated winemakers intent on giving it a new lease of life. Whether or not you are a fan of this fortified wine, one thing is sure - its image is changing.  

Ratafia is a fortified wine, traditionally “home-made” and drunk in the vineyards at harvest time. But it is now getting its glad rags on and heading out to make a name for itself in the fashionable bars of Paris. To celebrate its new lease of life, Ratafia has been given a makeover by the winemakers’ union which has released an official bottle design.

There are two categories of fortified wines.

Vin Doux Naturels (natural sweet wines) such as a Banyuls or Port, which are produced by adding eau-de-vie during the fermentation process, and Mistelle (liqueur wine) which is made by adding eau-de-vie to the grape musts. The liqueur wine retains a softer fruity style and is smoother on the palate than the VDNs. Ratafia, like Pineau des Charentes, is part of the latter category.

Many of the older generation like to reminisce about nights spent outdoors listening to the sound of the grape pickers’ singing and laughter filling the air, a glass of Ratafia in their hand. Ratafia was also drunk in the winter, huddled up by the fireplace, listening to grandpa telling stories of the hard work in times past, taking comfort in this wine that was so soft and so soothing that you forgot the passing of time! Because, traditionally, Ratafia has always been drunk where it was made. It speaks of the countryside, the secrets of the terroir, the calloused hands that tend to the vines and the satisfaction of a job well done. Eight centuries after the first records of Ratafia, it is finally making its origins official with the creation of the “Ratafia Champenois” geographical indication. 

Around thirty winemakers are helping it take its first steps in high-end restaurants. Vincent Couche, a well-respected winemaker in Montgueux, produces a Ratafia from biodynamically grown Chardonnay (he even makes the eau-de-vie himself). Served neat or on ice, with lovely aromas of quince, apricot, white flowers, aniseed, citrus or honey, it is a pure pleasure to drink. It is remarkably persistent and perfectly balanced.

Ratafia can, of course, be enjoyed as an aperitif and is also delicious with seared foie gras with clementines, simply roasted and dusted with spice such as turmeric and Kampot pepper. It makes the ideal partner for sweet and savoury Asian cuisine as well as certain spicy dishes such as a tajine with preserved lemons. When it comes to dessert, Ratafia works well with melon, apricot and chocolate.

In trendy bars it is fast becoming an ingredient of choice for cocktails, mixed with a dry white spirit such as tequila to balance out its sweetness, as well as aniseed, mint, citrus or ginger to give it freshness and punch.