Spirits - Vins de liqueur
Vins de Liqueur
Vins de Liqueur
There is another, much lesser known category of drinks (technically on the wine rather than the spirits side, but with much higher alcohol), vins de liqueur (sometimes called mistelles). These are sweet, fortified wines made with unfermented grape must (unclarified, freshly-pressed grape juice) fortified with the brandy of the given region.
The process is relatively straightforward: approximately 2/3 unfermented grape must (containing no alcohol) is combined with 1/3 young (clear) brandy at around 60% alcohol. The strength of the alcohol prevents the yeasts and sugar from fermenting, stabilizing the wine between 16% and 22% alcohol. This mixture then can either be aged in large oak casks to pick up more complex aromas and flavors (often of figs and/or nuts), or just be bottled and sold. The sugar from the grape must makes the vin de liqueur sweet, while the higher acidity and alcohol never permit it to become cloying.
Many regions in France make vins de liqueur using their local brandy. Some of these, which we import, include:
Floc de Gascogne with Armagnac
One of our Armagnac producers, Château de Ravignan, makes a delicious Floc de Gascogne using their Colombard and Ugni Blanc grapes and ⅓ Armagnac eau de vie to stop the fermentation around 17% alcohol. This has enough sweetness to make it a nice accompaniment to foie gras.
We also carry a Floc de Gascogne from our wine producer, Domaine Chiroulet, where the Fezas family loves to experiment and pays homage to their ancestors by continuing to make the Floc using the same ancient recipe.
Pommeau de Normandie with Calvados
When we are fortunate we carry this unique and rare (outside of France) vin de liqueur, made by mixing apple juice with Calvados eau de vie, from two of our Calvados producers, Calvados Adrien Camut (Pays d’Auge) and Calvados Lemorton (Domfrontais).
Macvin du Jura with Marc
Marc (or Pomace), is the solid remains of grapes after pressing for juice. It contains the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems of the grapes. In the Jura, the juice and must of Savagnin grapes are reduced in half by boiling, and the resulting liquid is then fortified with marc. Once it reaches 16% alcohol it is placed in oak casks to age for a minimum of 6 years. It is usually rich and textured with an amber color and aromas and flavors of orange zest, quince, prunes and other dried fruits.
We carry a stunning 18% alcohol Macvin du Jura from our creative Jura producer, Domaine Labet. It is aged in well-seasoned 228-liter casks and is most commonly drunk as an apéritif.
Ratafia de Champagne with Marc
Also employing marc are the few remaining Champagne producers who also produce Ratafia de Champagne. For bottled champagne, only the free run juice and first two pressings of the grapes are allowed (just over 80% of the grape’s potential juice). Third and fourth pressings, that often contain bitter or astringent elements, are set aside for the base matter of Ratafia de Champagne.
This rich juice, usually made with a blend of the 3 major Champagne grapes (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier), is placed in a vat and chilled, allowing the heavy solids to settle. After a racking, the unfermented juice is fortified with the addition of about 30% clear marc de champagne or fine de champagne at 60% alcohol, purchased from a local distillery. The addition of alcohol overwhelms the yeasts and prevents the fruit juice from fermenting, leaving a stable sweet blend of around 18% alcohol. This mixture is then placed in large oak casks where it is often mixed with other vintages with a solera-type aging. It is normally served as an aperitif, but can also be consumed with desserts or with foie gras and strong, soft rind cheeses.
In 2015, Ratafia de Champagne was awarded a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) by the INAO.
Our Côte des Blancs champagne producer, Champagne Guy Charlemagne, is one of the few Champagne growers to continue to produce Ratafia. Theirs is is aged in oak casks for 4 years. It has a lovely amber color that emits aromas of cherry, almond, chocolate and fine herbs. On the palate, more dried fruits emerge on its creamy texture, including apricot, grapes and spices. We enjoy this with strong cheeses like Munster, Epoisses and Maroilles, accompanied by walnuts.
Pineau des Charentes with Cognac
This last vin de liqueur subcategory we import is certainly the most known around the world. Legend has it that Pineau was discovered by accident when, during a harvest in 1589, a farmer dumped grape must into a barrel he thought was empty but actually contained eau de vie du vin. Several years later he found the barrel behind some others and found the blend to be thoroughly delicious. Its reputation spread and Pineau des Charentes came to be made by many locals.
Raymond Ragnaud, from our book, is one of the top Cognac producers, located in the town of Ambleville in the heart of the Grande Champagne. They also make a Pineau des Charentes in the traditional method, by combining 2/3 unfermented grape must (containing no alcohol) with 1/3 young Cognac at about 60% alcohol. The strength of the alcohol prevents the yeasts and sugar from fermenting, stabilizing the wine between at 17% alcohol. This mixture then goes into foudre to age for 4 years.
Usually served with an ice cube in a tulip-shaped glass, all of these vins de liqueur are classic French aperitifs, very popular back in the 1950’s and 1960’s and enjoying a bit of a comeback, particularly when incorporated into creative cocktails.They can also be useful when cooking.