Centuries ago, the term "ratafia" was used to describe fruits or nuts that were steeped in a sweetened spirit base. The term has now come to be applied mainly to a type of aperitif made in the brandy-producing areas of France. The brandy is mixed with fresh fruit juice.
Ratafia's name is not a geographical one. It derives from the old French practice of concluding any formal agreement (such as a legal contract) with a shared drink ... a "ratifier". The original phrase is Latin: Rata fiat (let the deal be settled).
There are also ratafias made in winemaking areas -- particularly Burgundy and Champagne, in which the naturally sweet grape juice is mixed with some of the regional wine. The most celebrated ratafia, however is Pineau des Charentes, made in the Cognac region from grape juice fortified with cognac. It can't be considered a fortified wine, though, because the grape juice has not undergone fermentation.
It comes in white and rose versions, and always has the sweetness of ripe grape juice about it.
In Armagnac, they make their version of the same drink by exactly the same method. Called Floc de Gascogne, its production, like that of armagnac itself, is on a much more modest commercial footing than its Charentes counterpart.
There is also a variant of this type of ratafia made in the Calvados region of Normandy, in which fresh apple juice is fortified with apple brandy. It is called pommeau, and is a considerably more palatable proposition than either Pineau or Floc.
Lesser known variants of ratafia are made in most of the old wine-producing countries, whenever a grape spirit is produced. The Spanish drink, Moscatel de Valencia, should technically be considered a type of ratafia, as it consists of grape spirit added to an unfermented, naturally sweet Moscatel grape juice.
How Ratafia is Made: Grape brandy is added to the unfermented grape juice or apple brandy to apple juice. In each case, the product is made to an average bottled strength of ~ 17% ABV, the same as a fortified wine.
Ratafia Tastes Good With: Ratafia works quite well, or at least better than most wine, as an accompaniment to a slice of aromatic melon. Because these drinks are naturally sweet, they don't immediately appeal to all tastes as obvious aperitifs, where the preference is usually for something dry. They may work better as dessert wines for many, with fruit tarts, or a slice of sumptuously rich cake.
How to Serve Ratafia: These drinks should be served very well chilled, in wine glass quantities as aperitifs. In Armagnac, they mix the Floc with sparkling wine and call it a pousse-rapiere (literally "rapier-pusher").