What do you get when you take fruit juice and fortify it with a spirit distilled from the same fruit? The French called it mistelle and for those in the know about this esoteric drink, it’s called delicious. With a long history in the wine and cider producing regions of France, this little-known tipple is making a comeback in Australia with new-wave brands capitalising on an abundance of excellent fruit and the younger generation’s willingness to try new things.
Sweet, complex and bursting with fresh fruit character, mistelles are commonly served on the rocks as an aperitif, but they function just as well as a cocktail ingredient or as a bright and balanced after-dinner drink (they pair brilliantly with cheese).
Traditionally, mistelle is produced in either a pineau or pommeau style. The former refers to grape juice, usually from a particular wine varietal or region, which is fortified with an eau de vie (unaged brandy) made from the same grapes. For example, juice from gewürztraminer grapes might be mixed with eau de vie de marc de gewürztraminer to make a gewürztraminer pineau. Similarly, in the case of pommeau, apple juice is mixed with an apple brandy from the same region.
In Australia, these styles are hardly prolific but there are examples out there. Bremerton Wines in Langhorne Creek, SA, produces mistelle by fortifying juice from a special parcel of chardonnay grapes and maturing it in oak for at least 24 months. Adding the spirit prevents fermentation, ensuring the juice tastes fresh yet has the stability required for cask maturation.
“Our location — close to the south coast and Lake Alexandrina — influences our climate, allowing for lovely fruit flavour and sugar development while retaining natural acidity due to cool evening breezes,” says Bremerton’s winemaker and co-general manager Rebecca Willson. “I believe the natural acidity retention is perfect for a balanced, light fortified wine like mistelle.”
Other examples include the Blanc and Rouge pineaus from Peacetree winery in Margaret River and a stunning apple pommeau from Tasmania’s Charles Oates (the spirits arm of the cider producer Willie Smith’s), which is readily available and well worth a try.
Other producers are appealing to a younger generation of drinkers with interesting takes on the style, like Rhubi Mistelle, made from rhubarb juice, and Økar Tropic, which features moscato and gewürztraminer grapes aromatised with orange and native tamarind. The director of Økar, Brendan Carter, sees mistelle as a significant opportunity to bring together the country’s rapidly growing spirits industry and established wine industry in a unique way. “Given the explosion of gin over the last decade, the current wine surplus we have domestically and favourable taxation conditions for mistelles, you can see the potential for new and exciting vinous creations to hit the market,” says Carter.
As well as being very drinkable on their own, these modern mistelles have captured the imagination of Australia’s mixologists, finding their way onto cocktail lists across the country. Alejandro Archibald, the bar manager at the Flinders Lane restaurant Nomad, includes Økar Tropic in his seasonal spritz, a Bellini with verjuice-poached yellow nectarine, saffron, vanilla and prosecco. “It’s like biting into the best damn nectarine you’ve ever had in your life,” says Archibald, “except bubbly, a little more complex and stupidly refreshing.”
Perhaps the best incentive to crack open a couple of these wonderful bottles comes from the 2022 Drink Easy Awards, an annual competition that aims to find the country’s best wines, beers, spirits and alternative adult drinks. Taking out the No. 1 spot to be crowned “Best Drink in Australia” out of more than 1,000 entries was none other than Økar Tropic. The official judges’ feedback reads: “Glossy, full-flavoured, long and bitter. An absolute bloody winner over ice — this is summer in a glass.
The writer of this article was the head spirits judge at the 2022 Drink Easy Awards.
By Black Pearl
This drink is currently on the menu at the Melbourne cocktail institution Black Pearl in Fitzroy. Sweet, savoury and sparkling, it’s a warm-weather delight.
30ml Økar Tropic
20ml Noilly Prat dry vermouth
10ml simple sugar syrup
7.5ml (1 1/2 tsp) mirin (Japanese
2.5ml (1/2 tsp) olive brine
80ml sparkling wine
Add all ingredients except sparkling wine to a highball glass. Fill the glass with ice, top with sparkling wine and stir to combine. Garnish with a wedge of fresh orange skewered with
a Sicilian olive. Enjoy in the sun.