What is it about an aperitif that whets the appetite and sets the tone for the meal? There is something all together nostalgic, charming and civilized about starting a meal with an aperitif. With a full range of cocktails, wines and liqueurs available before a meal it begs the question – what makes a good aperitif?
The word aperitif comes from the Latin aperire, meaning to open. The role of these drinks to open the meal, and set the stage for what’s to come. If that’s the case, you want to offer a drink that will heighten the dining experience rather than dull the senses. To get the most bang for your flavor buck, while still keeping a clear head you probably want to offer something with a relatively low level of alcohol, probably under 25% or so. Looks like the big four heavy-hitters – vodka, gin, whisky, and tequila, are probably out of the running for Aperitif of the Year. By that same logic, a Long Island is likely not your best bet for a pre-dinner cocktail.
Good candidates for an aperitif? You not only want something low alcohol, but definitely not sweet, and perhaps a little bitter. Why? Because the acidity or bitter flavors will cause your mouth to water and get all those digestive enzymes flowing. Delicious options include a glass of bubbly or dry white wine, Campari, Vermouth, Lillet, Dubonnet, Pastis, and Pernod. As you’ll notice several of these are either wine, or fortified wine liqueurs. The wine base gives them a nice acidic backbone, then the producers add closely guarded herbal concoctions making them much more savory, and occasionally bitter, than your average glass of wine.
At your next dinner party think about offering a little aperitif with some olives or cheeses as your guests arrive. One sip and they will automatically shut off from their day and slide into a comfortable evening.