We’re very excited about a new aperitif that has just landed at Master of Malt towers. Folle Envie is made from the sort of grapes that normally go into Cognac but macerated with herbs and spices to make a lowish ABV drink that’s particularly delicious with tonic water.

The French do love a grape-based aperitif. There’s drinks like Pineau des Charentes, a mixture of unfermented grape juice and Cognac, or Floc de Gascogne, the Armagnac equivalent. Or Byrrh, a quinine drink made from red grapes from the south of France. But there are also versions that the French like to make at home, like DIY vermouth

I tried one made by the owner of a B&B in Pauillac made from a mixture of Martinique rum steeped with spices and Bordeaux grape juice. It was sweet, fiery and a bit rustic, but tasted very nice with pizza on a warm spring night. 

One such homemade aperitif was made by Estelle Sauvage’s great-grandmother, though a bit more elegant. She ran a grocery store in the Charente region, the home of Cognac, which turned into a bar in the evening serving her trademark aperitif. Sauvage came across the recipe and, she writes: “80 years later, I had the crazy idea to revive this aperitif, simply as an homage to Zilda, who loved life so much, the truth and everything that you share.”

Folle Envie aperitif with tonic water

A Folle Envie and tonic makes a great low ABV G&T substitute

The idea was to make Folle Envie – pronounced something like ‘Fol On-vee’ – as much as possible from local ingredients. Sauvage says: “Doing things right for us meant ‘Made in France’. Why go elsewhere to find our ingredients, our partners if these raw materials, skills, and exceptional level of quality that we wanted exist nearby?” 

The starting point is Ugni Blanc grapes. This variety is the basis for almost all Cognac but also makes fruity, floral wines in south west France and Italy where it is known as Trebbiano. The grapes are only part-fermented which preserves sugar as well as fruit character. 

This is then blended with neutral grain alcohol which has been steeped with cardamom and dried lemon peel. It comes out at a nice moderate 11.2 % ABV with around 70g of sugar per litre – most vermouth will have at least double that. Everything is done at Planat, an organic Cognac producer.

Sauvage is big on sustainability. The business is certified B Corp, rather like Bruichladdich, meaning that it meets stringent environmental standards. The product is organic and the bottles are recycled. The labels on the bottles are made from recycled sugar cane fibre and the ink used is vegetable ink.

Most importantly, it tastes great too. Fresh and floral with a nutty spicy quality, the flavour is not unlike a dry white port like Taylor’s Chip Dry and as such it’s perfect foil for tonic water like Fever Tree original. In fact, the company makes its own organic tonic water called Archibald using French gentian root rather quinoa bark which has to be imported from Africa or South America. Add ice and a piece of lemon peel, and you have the perfect low alcohol sipper. 

It’s a bit early to be thinking about it as the arctic winds blow through Kent but this should be the drink of the summer: low alcohol, not too sweet, and packed full of flavour. But Folle Envie is also a versatile mixer. It’s great in place of vermouth in cocktails, try it half-an-half with gin in a very wet Dry Martini while you wait for the weather to improve. 

Folle Envie is available from Master of Malt.