Discover Ratafia from Champagne
2nd December 2020
Those who have visited Champagne may have been introduced to a local sweet drink, high in alcohol similar to fortified wine. This beverage is called Ratafia, which it is not a fortified wine, but, a mistelle based on grape must. The origin of Ratafia is probably Italian, having subsequently spread to other countries such as Spain and France. The word Ratafia comes from the Latin ‘Rata Fiat’ meaning ‘let the business be concluded’. Throughout the Middle Ages and up to the 20th century, sweet was considered the finest ones and was very exclusive. So, when negotiation was concluded, drinking Ratafia was a way to solemnize the act between the parties.
The Ratafia produced in Champagne would have been produced already in the 13th century and until these days, its production mainly serves a local market. The Ratafia Champenois was recognized in Protected Geographic Indication – PGI in 2015, being the zone of production, all the area delimited for Champagne. The Ratafia Champenois is sweet with a minimum of 110 grams of sugar per litre and alcohol that can range from 16-22% and aged at least 10 months in tanks or oak barrels. It is important to stress, that the sweetness comes from the natural sugar present in the grape must. At the time of pressing the grapes intended for the production of Champagne, the producer can allocate a part of the must, not exceeding 116 litres for each 4,000kg pressing for the production of Ratafia. The beverage is made with grapes that potentially can be used for the making of Champagne.
The Ratafia should be made within a maximum period of 20 days after the harvest. The alcohol used for the ‘mutage’, a process which consists of stopping the fermentation process with the addition of alcohol, will be sourced from local distilleries. The largest supplier of alcohol (Destillerie Goyard) from Ay, uses a column still, with the aim of creating relatively neutral alcohol, so that the characteristics of the grapes are highlighted keeping it very aromatic. Finally, a good Ratafia Champenois is best enjoyed at a low temperature of 4-6 degrees and can pair perfectly with fruit pies like apple pie, Tarte aux mirabelles (cherry plum) or stone fruits. It can be enjoyed at the end of the meal like a digestive.
Like any strong alcohol, Ratafia will keep for a long time once the bottle is open. In the past, it was common for bottles or barrels of Ratafia to be present aboard French merchant navy vessels due to their ability to preserve themselves, so don’t hesitate to keep it in your apartment or outside of a cellar, it will last. With the recognition in Geographical Indication, interest in Ratafia has grown and some producers start to release labels designed to offer quality Ratafias to a public outside the local market. The potential production of Ratafia is estimated at 17 million bottles per year.
Written by Luiz Batistello
Glass of Bubbly
Executive editor of news content for the website Please enjoy the articles that we share - We hope you find our love for Champagne & Sparkling Wines both interesting and educational.