French Liqueurs in Provence
We spent three nights in the very small, somewhat sleepy, but unbelievably picturesque hilltop village of Bonnieux in Luberon. There are a lot of good things we could say about this tiny town: great views of the Provencal valley, short drives to fields of lavender and sunflowers, wineries at Renaissance chateaux just a walk away, a Tour de France stage within spitting distance. Perhaps our favorite thing about Bonnieux, though, was the array of liqueurs available at La Maison de Bonilis.
One of the main reasons we spent the majority of our French trip on the Riviera and in Provence was that we heard this southeastern corner of France, tucked away along the borders of France, Switzerland, and Italy, was famous for its liqueurs. Indeed, we knew well that vermouth was created in this corner of the world, and that Chartreuse, the most famous of French liqueurs, is made not far away, on the way from Provence to Lyon. If there were hidden gems along the order of vermouth or Chartreuse in Provence, we wanted to taste them.
Alas, for most of our trip they were elusive.
Then, we wandered into Bonilis, halfway down the hill from our hotel to dinner, for a round of pre-dinner drinks and found the collection of aperitifs we’d been looking for. Sadly, we only had the capacity to try four of the six options.
RinQuinQuin a la Peche
RinQuinQuin is a fortified wine that isn’t quite so sweet as Lillet and not quite so dry as Cocchi. The advertised peach flavor was subtle, giving a slightly crisp and fruity note to the drink.
L’Ardechoise is a walnut liqueur with a rather thick, syrupy consistency. Despite the fact that it’s rather sweet and rather heavy, hints of fruit and flowers kept it light enough to feel appropriate as an aperitif. I fear we’re not describing this one well. It was actually quite interesting and quite pleasant.
Elixir du Mont Ventoux
The Elixir du Mon Ventoux tastes like a minty yellow Chartreuse, the same soft, complicated herbal mix with a brighter touch. It has strong notes of anise, and an overall lighter consistency than its more famous neighbor.
La Comtadine’s bright green color led us to expect something sweet and probably fruity. Actually, the foretaste is quite bitter, like lightly roasted coffee. The aftertaste is indeed sweet, but herbal, bringing some relief to the bitterness without sacrificing complexity. Overall, it’s refreshingly bitter, with a heavier consistency than the Elixir, but not quite so heavy as L’Ardechoise. We thought this one would taste especially good with a soda top.
It was tremendously fun to try these half-strange, half-familiar liqueurs, kind of like meeting a long-lost cousin.
Here’s the thing. This is the only place we’ve ever seen these liqueurs. We’ve never run into them in the US, or even anywhere else in France. So, if you find yourself in Bonnieux, make sure you have a drink at La Maison de Bonilis. And if you see any of these excellent and interesting liqueurs in the US, please let us know. But if you’re willing to pay 50 euro for shipping they can be yours here.