Wine with Food: Panache
By Paul Kalemkiarian Sr. | March 1984
I do not generally write about a single trade named product. In fact, the makers of Panache do not know I have selected it for my featured wine this month. My reason for the choice is because the product is unique in the United States, and it lends itself well to the festive season.
So what is Panache? It is a proprietary name for a product made by the famous American/French champagne…oops…sparkling wine makers: Domaine-Chandon. It is not a sparkling wine. It is a by-product of that industry, and if anything it may be called a dessert wine, and according to French standards may also be classified as an aperitif wine! (The French do drink sweeter wines as apperitifs or appetizers, which we tend not to. Hold it, how about the Manhattan fanciers?!)
I do not know why it was named Panache. The literal translation of the word is “an ornamental plume of feathers, tassels, or the like, especially one worn on a helmet or cap: or a grand or flamboyant manner, verve, style, flair”. Maybe it was named for the latter connotation.
It is a wine with flair!
The correct name for it comes from France: Ratafia de Champagne. I assume this was a poor marketing name for the United States, and so Panache was coined as a name.
It does have a good ring.
Ratafia or Panache is made by taking the end juice from the light pressing cycle of Pinot Noir grapes used in champagne production, collecting it in a separate tank and before it ferments, adding unaged brandy. Enough brandy is added to bring the alcohol content to approximately 18%. The two elements are allowed to marry for several years before bottling.
The interesting thing about this wine, if it may be called that is the fact that it has hardly seen any fermentation. Just as it started fermenting naturally after the crushing of the grapes, the fermentation was stopped by the addition of brandy. It really is a diluted distilled spirit (not watered down!). The grape juice that is used has the natural sugar still present. This adds the sweetness dimension to its flavor. The fresh grape flavor is very much present and makes an interesting blend with the brandy alcohol. (Another way of looking at it is that it is fortified grape juice!)
…A delightful sweet dessert type liqueur, if you wish. Not too sweet, and very flavorful.
So what to serve with it?
I think it makes a great accompaniment to fruit salad. Served chilled in balloon shaped glasses, its peach colored appearance adds to the course.
Another way I like to use it is with ice cream. Poured over French vanilla, it makes for an elegant combination for dessert. (Do not forget the fan shaped wafers.)
The ultimate in flavor blending is serving it with cantaloupe melon. Pour an ounce or two in the center of a half fruit. And… if you want a double-header, consider adding a scoop of ice-cream.
A totally different direction is to serve Panache with unsalted walnuts. It makes for a different after dinner experience. In this instance, I prefer to serve it at room temperature.
If you wish to serve Panache as Ratafia is served in France, before the meal as an appetizer, then one of the hors d’oeuvres could be the fruit flavored cream cheeses that come to us from Franche (cherry or peach) with plain unsalted crackers.
A close relative to Ratafia or Panache is Pineau des Charentes, which is made from cognac and grape juice harvested in the Charentes vineyards of France. It differs by not necessarily being made from Pinot Noir grapes. It can be made from red or white grapes. I prefer the Panache because it has that wonderful varietal character of the Pinot Noir showing.