Let’s set the scene. Burgundy in 1940 was under siege. The Nazis had arrived and those who could fled. The Germans set about looting almost anything of value. For Burgundy, this meant its wine. Both Hermann Goring and Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s top officials, were wine aficionados but they didn’t just demand wine for themselves. The German military viewed wine as a way to flaunt their victory, so wine was needed for all soldiers.
It didn’t take long for Burgundy’s cellars to be ransacked of their best bottles. The Nazis didn’t want the lowest level wines made with the step-child grape, Aligoté. Wine made from Aligoté, after all, was a simple table wine, not worthy of their consumption. Hence, Aligoté was the only wine left for Burgundians to drink…and even it was scarce as there were few people working in the vineyards.
Kir was responsible for covert operations such as liberating thousands of French prisoners of war
The mayor of Burgundy’s largest city, Dijon, was a well-respected Catholic priest (all other mean were at war). Priest Kir, a secret member of the French Resistance, wanted to do something to make the Burgundians feel better about the Nazi occupation, so he created a drink out of what the Germans didn’t confiscate: Aligoté and the simple local black currant liqueur called Cassis. This pale red drink mimicked the color of Burgundy’s prized Pinot Noir. Immediately it became a popular drink and a symbol of the defiance of the Burgundians. The drink was named after its inventor, Kir.
After the war, Priest Kir was awarded France’s coveted Legion of Honor medal. Nearly seventy-five years later his drink has become a standard aperitif not only in France but world-wide. Kir Royale, made with Champagne and Cassis, is undoubtedly served at every Michelin star French restaurant around the globe…and for that matter, at every upmarket restaurant in the US.
Next time you have a Kir or Kir Royale, you may want to pay homage to the circumstances of how and by whom it was created. Or, better yet, why not come with Wine-Knows September 2024 to Burgundy and experience a Kir in its birthplace.