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Rosolios/Rosoglios and Ratafias

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  • walter jacobson
    One sometimes comes across the rather obscure terms rosolio (also spelt rosoglio) and ratafia in distilling literature, which made me interested to find
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 2, 2002

      One sometimes comes across the rather obscure terms 'rosolio' (also spelt rosoglio) and 'ratafia' in distilling literature, which made me interested to find more about their origins.

      The Polish Lancut Distillery still produces 3 rosoglios and there is an article titled "The Lure of Rosoglios" - http://www.polishvodkas.com/miscelany/rosoglios/main.html

      "The first rosoglio, Liquore Rosoglio. was created by the Italians as early as 1332. Today we would describe it as an aperitif made from wine spirit infused with the leaves of an insectivorous plant believed to be a panacea for many illnesses."

      The insect eating plant referred to is Rosa Solis or Sundew (Drosera rotundiflora) and is still recommended as a homeopathic remedy for whooping cough. There is reference to it in "The Complete Herbal" by N. Culpeper (1616-1654) -

      "There is an usual drink made thereof with aqua vitae and spices frequently, and without any offence or danger, but to good purpose used in qualms and passions of the heart."

      The insect eating sundew plant does not appear in a modern  rosolio, and the term has just become a synonym for liqueur. There are healing and monastic backgrounds to many of our liqueurs. For example, Luxardo Maraschino  had its origins as liqueur known in Dalmatia since medieval times, produced in many convents with the name of "Rosolio Maraschino". The Polish Lancut Distillery produces a rose, coffee and a herb rosoglio. Modern Italian rosolios (rosoli in plural) include alla rosa, di pistacchio, di canella, di mirto among others.

      Here is a Sicilian recipe for a rosolio alla rosa (Rose Rosolio):

      "Gather red roses in perfect bloom during the hottest hours of the day, when their perfume is at its headiest. Pluck the petals, discarding the light-colored rim at the base because it's slightly bitter. Weigh out 13/4 oz. (40 g) of petals, put them in a large jar with a vanilla bean, and cover them with a quart (1 l) of alcohol (95%bv). Seal the jar and let the contents steep for 2 weeks. When the 2 weeks are up, make a syrup by bringing a pound (500 g) sugar to a boil in 31/4 cups (800 ml) of water. Strain the rose petals and vanilla bean out of the alcohol, return the alcohol to the jar, stir in the syrup, seal, and let it all sit for another 2 weeks, then filter and bottle." ( italianfood.about.com).

      Ratafia is a generic term for French aperitif wine liqueurs that are made by adding grape spirit to unfermented grape juice. Mistelle is another term used. 'ratafia de Bourgogne', 'ratafia de Champagne' and 'Pineau des Charentes' are examples of the style.

      The term ratafia was formerly also used as a synonym for the present liqueur or creme. "The Household Cyclopedia" of 1881 has recipes for ratafias under the heading of 'Liqueurs'. The book has a separate heading for 'Cordials' which is an earlier English term than liqueur, which came in use in the early 1700's. The term cordial is still used in the U.S. for the more widespread term liqueur.

       Bottled filtered grape juice is available for the general public and could be used by home distillers wishing to try the ratafia style. In fact home distillation and home wine making could easily be combined to make various fortified wines (20%abv), basically by stopping fermentation when there is still residual sugar in the fermenting must. These techniques enlarge the distilling palette.





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