Champagnes’ other wine – Ratafia

vine and the olive ratafia

If there’s one thing that I can appreciate about having a husband from Champagne, it’s that whenever we gather with family and friends there’s always a flute of bubbling champagne in my hand. But while that’s what you know of Champagne, there’s another the drink in the region you might never have heard of. 

Ratafia. 

But let’s give this all some context. In the beginning family dinners were exhausting. What felt like a thousand conversations were all taking place at once and I never seemed to catch much more than a couple tidbits. Something about politics, sports, maybe hunting and always one of the kids who wasn’t happy about something on their plate. Maybe you can imagine the headaches that would ensue? 

But family dinners have a fairly common rhythm around here.

First glass – that bubbling flute of champagne either white or rosé. Check!
Second glass – Whoa! Sweet! What!?
Third glass – a smooth, sultry glass of tawny red old, old (borderline too old) Bordeaux from his dads collection. More please!

This was something I could get my head around. I love wine, but you probably already knew that. While everyone was chatting, I was in my own bubble thinking about these different flavours. Except of course that second glass. At first I hated it. It’s not that the wine was bad, but I always thought sweet wines were just some way producers were covering up some fatal flaw instead of appreciating what was in front of me. 

Eventually I gave up this cynical outlook and I decided to just enjoy glass number 2. I’d like to say that I was open and ready but it didn’t happen so fast, and even at the beginning I couldn’t have repeated what we were sipping on, but over time I started to learn and one such sweet apéritif wine, specifically from Champagne is Ratafia.  

Ratafia is made from the ripened leftover grapes of Champagne which have been left to dry before being rehydrated with marc brandy and then the juice is fermented in oak barrels for a minimum of two years giving it this rich amber colour that is sure to grab your attention.

We were fortunate to have received a bottle recently, a gift from a producer, who was kind enough to share with us and I couldn’t wait to have a sip. 

You know when you walk past a flower shop and your nose is flooded with that intoxicating smell of fresh, floral goodness? Well let’s say it has a similar effect only what you smell is candied fruit, honey and oranges. When you finally take a sip it’s got this viscous quality, thick and similar to how caramel coats your mouth and you get a punch of juicy dried fruit and candied orange peels. Soon you’ll probably feel a little heat in your hands as it works through your body. It’s quite an experience and one you must try if you make a trip to Champagne. 

Just a note of caution – this drink is strong so while it might go down easy, you might want to use moderation. If you can, have your glass of Ratafia with a slice of foie gras! The good news is, with this, you can survive all those french conversations whirling around you! Hopefully you’ll be more open to this beverage than I was because it’s not to be missed! If you have tried it, or have another great specialty drink from another region I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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