Ratafia is a sweet alcoholic drink that takes different forms and flavors depending on where it’s made. The name, however, has a similar origin story everywhere.
“It comes from the Latin phrase rata fiat, which means ‘the deal has been made,’ says Dan Oskey, cofounder of Tattersall Distilling. “The history revolves around ratifying legal or political matters, where both parties would share a drink after signing documents.”
In the Piedmont and Abruzzo regions, ratafia is a syrupy liqueur traditionally flavored with local sour cherries. Some versions are made with green walnuts, ginger and other fruits.
To make the liqueur, the fruit is mixed with wine such as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, sugar and a neutral spirit to bring the mixture to 20–30% alcohol by volume (abv). While it can be sipped neat or poured over vanilla ice cream, it’s also great in gin-based and other cocktails, says Scott Carney, MS, dean of wine studies at the Institute of Culinary Education.
Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Ratafia Catalana is also a liqueur, but in Catalonia, green walnuts are the key ingredient, along with sugar and a variety of flavorings. Cinnamon and nutmeg are common, as are Mediterranean herbs such as sage, rosemary and mint, but “the exact botanicals are a well-guarded secret,” says Nika Shevela, founder of Wine Alphabet.
To use the term Ratafia Catalana, the drink must be macerated for a minimum of three months, barrel aged for the same amount of time and be 24–30% abv. But given the trendiness of lower-alcohol drinks, some producers are bucking that requirement and making versions with alcohol levels as low as 16% abv.
Ratafia de Champagne is a vin de liqueur, or sweet fortified wine. A PGI since 2015, it has to be made with the last pressing of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or Pinot Meunier, and then fortified by adding grape-based brandy to the must.
“It would be comparable to Floc de Gascogne or Pineau des Charentes,” says Carney. Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy, of Champagne Geoffroy, recommends serving it with Roquefort, foie gras or crème brûlée.