Vin Blanc Cassis
(Pronounced ‘Van blon cas-eese’) White wine, with the addition of cassis. This drink originated in Burgundy, where it was made with Aligote plus the cassis for which the region is famous. It became known as un Kir, after Canon Felix Kir, Mayor of Dijon. Today the expression is known and used all over France, as well as the more ordinary term.
There are endless arguments about the ideal Kir: one essential is that the white wine should be really dry and fairly full – even hard. Muscadet, Gros Plant, a tough white Saumur or even a white Rhone will do, but nothing delicate. The proportions vary greatly, the Burgundians sometimes giving recipes involving one part cassis to three or four parts wines, but I think most people would find this far too strong: the drink should be blush-pink, not colonel’s nose purple. For me, a good teaspoonful of cassis in a 5.45 oz (155ml) glass is best.
Then there is the cassis – and about this I have crossed swords in print with several dear colleagues, for I maintain that the better the cassis the better the drink. Once, offering a series of guests a tasting of Kirs made with three different qualities of cassis, I found that all opted for a vintage cassis. This is made by Trenel who say, with truth, that as the spirit eats the fruit of the liqueur after some time, the younger vintage is the better. I also maintain that, if you use a fairly generous glass, then the cassis should be ‘supercassis’ or double crime – the terms do not mean that the cassis is sweeter, only a bit stronger. The ample measure merits the extra ‘push’. I also think that the drink – which can be an excellent way of using up an otherwise undistinguished tough white wine – always needs the kick of the spirit, not just as flavouring. However there are those who like ordinary cassis and even those who say that blackcurrant syrup will do as well. With this last I cannot begin to agree, as one simply gets the very sweet blackcurrant flavour, minus any underlying lift of the spirit. But individuals should experiment and make up their own minds.
In the Beaujolais, the locals make this drink with cassis spiking their newly made red wine and call the result a Rince Cochon (pigswill, in the sense of swilling out the pig). However, when President Kruschev visited the region, it was felt they could hardly cope with explaining this familiar term to him even via the most adroit interpreter, so they renamed what is a really bright red drink Un Nikita for the occasion.
Recently, several other fruit spirits have begun to be used to make a variation of vin blanc cassis. Of course, the cassis can be used for vermouth cassis (use dry vermouth or Chambery), or with a sparkling or petillant dry wine. I have found the really dry vinhos verdes make a delicious base for this drink and there are those who put cassis in Champagne. The strawberry liqueurs can be used with sparkling wines: in Alsace they offer a version with framboise (raspberry) and the newest type of drink has been evolved with crème de myrtilles (bilberries), plus Montlouis. The inventor, Yapp of Mere, imaginatively terms this a Mere, because of the pronunciation of the first syllable of myrtille. However the strength of the liqueur must be noted, because some are far higher in alcohol than cassis. If used in the same proportions, they would merely stun the drinker, who may not have been prepared to accept anything equivalent to a ‘double’ of spirit in a glassof wine.