In traditional French homes in summer, it’s almost a given that guests will be offered an apéritif before lunch or dinner. It will usually be something cold, not too sweet, to refresh and to stimulate the appetite as well as the conversation. In Paris you might have a glass of Champagne, and regionally you might start with something like Pineau de Charentes, which is in my cabinet and a favorite of my Mom in summer. It’s served very cold, and is made of a base of cognac. A fortified cognac, I’d say. It’s a little syrupy, but absolutely delicious, as well as a personal reminder of many a weekend spent on a good friend’s terrace in Charente. Still others prefer a Pastis and water, or Lillet, which is also made from a base of Bordeaux wine and has some added flavors and liquers, and so is called a fortified wine. Often served with a slice of orange and over ice, there are many ways to serve Lillet. Lillet red is found in the U.S. but in France it’s only white.
In Provence and many rural areas, a home-made fortified berry wine might be offered. I have a hard time pinning this one down as I have seen it around France, and berries of course are easily found across France in summer. You might see it made with rosé wine in the Loire, or in Provence. And it’s found in the Gaston Lenôtre cookbook that my friend gave me recently, and Lenôtre is from Brittany. While I can not attest to the regional origins, I can say without a doubt that it’s French and summery, so I will leave it at that. And when made well, it’s delicious.
Serve this wine very chilled, as a small greeting for guests, or over ice. One small taste is a lovely and colorful welcome. To make a bottle you will need:
1 bottle of rosé wine: either from Provence or Loire
1 pound (give or take) of raspberries, blackberries or other berries
3/4 cup sugar
a few ounces of eau de vie or other alcohol to top it off.
Put the berries in a bowl, add the sugar on top and add enough of the wine to just cover the fruit. Let sit for 1-2 days in the refrigerator. Cork the rest of the bottle of wine and also keep it in the refrigerator.
After the berries and wine and sugar have been cohabitating for a few days, put them in a saucepan, and heat just until boiling, then remove from heat.
As the berries heat up you will notice they will lose the rest of their color (and flavor). If you make your own preserves you will understand the concept; the berries should become pale and give up their color. If you use raspberries they will probably look like this~
Blackberries will hold shape a bit more; stir occasionally; allow the berries to give up their color also.
When the mixture is cool, strain the berry mix through a fine sieve and pour it back into a wine bottle with a funnel. Add 1/4 cup of any kind of eau de vie or alcohol; I don’t like to mix grape with grain, so I used a bit of Poire William liqueur as it’s made from a base of cognac. Vodka and others are made from grains, and this is not good, for my stomach and many others, to mix. If you prefer not to add any extra alcohol, that’s fine. It will be a little sweet and lack the bite but use your taste.
To be authentic, I love using corks wrapped in burlap. Corks may be too fat with the burlap to go in the bottle; it’s really less a question of sealing the bottle as it is keeping the bugs off the sugary wine.
Use a knife to trim the bottom of the cork. This will let you seal the bottle with ease. The burlap is my favorite washed burlap; easily fringed as this piece is~
I think I could have strained my wine more, or pressed the berries a little less, but it gave off a great color and flavor in the end. It tastes fantastic. Drop a few fresh berries in each bottle to reference the base berry; so no one will confuse them. Or you can label them, but a single berry in the bottle really says it all~
And the pair of corked bottles, one blackberry, one raspberry, look great. Mom prefers the raspberry.
I like to serve this in little glasses, with an ice cube. A touch of green on the side is perfect in summer. Add a berry or two on the side; this is also a reference for your guests so they can know immediately what is in this glass~
This says Welcome to me, and summer.
In the end, I didn’t get the color difference that I expected between the black and the red berries. They both came out in two shades of red. But the tastes are distinct. And they both compliment each other nicely.
These are also great with a spritzer added: Perrier or tonic water.
More than anything, this is a refreshing way to greet guests, and little conversation ice breaker; it says I planned something special for your visit.
This is also a great red for the Fourth of July. Let me know if you try this and what your guests think. The wine will last for about one month prepared this way, but it’s best made for a party and consumed immediately. Usually, this is never a problem!