The story tends to be the same regardless of the region: at some point in history, a careless worker at an unknown distillery or winery tipped some brandy into a barrel, not realising it was two-thirds full of juice, thus serendipitously creating the local aperitif. Versions of this happy accident are told in pretty much every brandy-producing region of France. The story itself is certainly apocryphal (this drinker is more persuaded that our heroic workers simply combined two delicious liquids in the age-old spirit of enquiry: see also the Miami Vice cocktail) but is found in all of France’s major brandy-producing areas, and has been a traditional drink for the producers in these areas for around 300 years.
Regardless of the area the method is effectively the same: take 1 part young brandy and 2 parts unfermented grape or apple juice, mix them together and put it in a barrel for a period. There are variations – notably that Cognac and Armagnac use grapes and Calvados uses apples – but the principle is identical. The high-ABV brandy – typically 65-72% – fortifies the must to a strength at which yeast can’t act; this process is known as mutage. This means all the sugars in the juice remain unfermented, and a wine-like liquid with an ABV of 17-20% is the result. If done in Cognac the mistelle is called ‘Pineau des Charentes’, in Armagnac ‘Floc de Gasgogne’, in Calvados ‘Pommeau’ and in Burgundy and Champagne ‘Ratafia’.
Mistelles are closely related to dessert wines, fortified wines, vermouths & quinquinas (L.N. Mattei Cap Corse is actually based on a mistelle) but the production process leads to a different flavour profile and mouthfeel. The natural sugars in the juice give them a sweetness, balanced by a crisp acidity, and ageing in barrels gives them delicate nutty flavours and floral aromas – ‘Floc’ is actually a Gascon word meaning ‘bouquet of flowers’. Traditionally they are paired with foods (foie gras, apple tart), served chilled as an aperitif or over cantaloupe melon, but more and more bartenders are waking up to the possibilities offered by these delicate and complex liqueurs – as substitutes for vermouths or as ingredients in their own right, especially for lower ABV drinks.
Stir and strain into a chilled coupette and garnish with a lemon twist.
Muddle the fruit briefly then shake and strain into a highball over crushed ice. Garnish with an apple fan.
Pour all ingredients in a wine glass over cubed ice; garnish with a slice of grapefruit.