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One usually gets to taste apéritifs in mixed drinks and occasionally by themselves on the rocks with a twist. Saturday you will have an opportunity to sample several side by side to enjoy their similarities as well as their differences. Originating from the Latin word aperio, apéritifs were originally conceived to “open” or prepare the appetite for a meal. The base for these elixirs is usually a red or white wine that is combined with an infusion of herbs, spices and other botanicals, perhaps even brandy, to achieve the sensuous flavors desired. Actually, there are a great many wonderful products of this type on the market and all have recipes that are jealously guarded. Some for centuries. Think of serving at your next gathering a relatively inexpensive, but delicious, apéritif that quinches one’s thirst and stimulates the appetite.
Dubonnet Blanc, France
Dubonnet is the nation’s top selling aperitif, with a long and storied history, and is enjoying renewed popularity as consumers return to classic cocktails. In 1846, French wine merchant Joseph Dubonnet created an original taste for the pleasure of family and friends. His recipe soon gained wide popularity as a refreshing drink and an excellent complement to meals. It is made by adding herbs and botanicals to a fortified white wine creating an herbier taste. Traditionally, it is mixed with lemonade for a wonderful summertime cooler.
Lillet Blanc, France
Lillet has recently come back into fashion as one of the components of James Bond’s favorite cocktail in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale .007 called it the Vesper (after the female character in the book and film) – a mix of gin, vodka and Lillet. This apéritif from the French village of Podensac is a blend of wine, brandy, herbs, and fruit. It is based on Sauvignon and Semillon grapes and shows aromas of mint, flowers and citrus fruit. The flavors are of honey, candied orange, pine resin, lime and fresh mint. It is traditionally served over ice with a twist of orange or lime, or added to cocktails.
Vya Vermouth, Extra Dry, Quady Winery, California
Vermouth is a wine to which botanicals – anything from the plant world, (for example herbs, spices, fruits and flowers) have been added. The name was derived from the German “Wermut” or Anglo-Saxon “wermod” (wormwood), a plant with powerful medicinal and psychoactive properties. From the time of the Romans and perhaps the Greeks wormwood infusions were used to cure intestinal worms. Because wormwood is extremely bitter, sugar and spices were added. In the mid 1700’s, in Northern Italy, such infusions began to be drunk as apéritifs. Made from French Colombard and Orange Muscat wines, it is loaded with nuance, tasting of chamomile (like the tea), ginger, and lemon and is very silky.
Dubonnet Rouge, France
From its origins with the French Foreign Legion to the legions of modern mixologists still using it today, The Rouge has been a staple on the cocktail landscape since its introduction in 1846, when it became necessary to make quinine more palatable for the soldiers battling malaria in North Africa. The mix of fortified wine, a proprietary blend of herbs, spices and peels, and the medicinal quinine is a recipe that has earned it legendary status in the world of sophisticated drinks.
Lillet Rouge, France
This apéritif from Bordeaux is made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Like many French vermouths Lillet is flavored with quinine (the bark of the cinchona from Peru). To this are added sweet, bitter and green oranges and orange peel. These are distilled into a fruit liqueur, then blended with the wine and matured in oak for 6-12 months. It has a ruby color; with aromatics of raspberry, blackberry, cherry, vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom and ginger; that are replicated in the mouth. It is best served over ice with an orange slice, though the mixologist is bound only by his or her imagination.
Vya Vermouth Sweet, Quady Winery, California
Winemaker Andrew Quady whose specialty is dessert wines has produced two of the best vermouths on the market. This one is loaded with cinnamon, cloves, and orange, and it finishes pleasantly bitter.
Marie Brizard Manzanita Apple Liqueur, France
Originally, the firm made its name with the aniseed liqueur that was later to become the Marie Brizard anisette, but its real growth period came when it branched out into a wide range of well made cocktail-based liqueurs, spirits, and syrups. This is not strictly an apéritif, but can be used as one by serving on the rocks to enjoy the delicate slightly sour taste of freshly picked green apples. A list of excellent cocktail recipes is available, as well.