My pal Katie and I were church-mouse-poor when we lived in Boston. One of us was a poet, one a lab rat, and both were Berkeley girls with expensive taste in food and drink. This was sometimes a problem. But we stayed sane by picking our battles. This was before the days when good coffee was a given, and we had Peets (which back then was the good coffee, and had only a small handful of Bay Area shops) Fedex us their Arabian Mocha, which we ground judiciously and measured to the teaspoon.
And whenever we could, we made sure there was a bottle of Lillet in the fridge.
The quintessential aperitif of Bordeaux, Lillet is a fortified wine made mostly from Semillon grapes (Merlot in the rouge version) mixed with some fancy aromatics (largely citrus peels and Peruvian Cinchona, from which quinine is derived). It is oaked, racked, and handled with care as befits any French beverage with a long history—and it has a long finish to go along with it. Lillet is bittersweet, honeyed, slightly resinous, with a floral nose.
Though few people probably use Lillet to fight fevers any more, it remains damned good at fighting off the ennui of a warm afternoon. Iced and garnished simply with an orange slice, it is a heavenly, bittersweet brew with a rich gold color.
Now, the Grande Dame of Bordeaux tonics has up and declared May 21 National Aperitif Day. As far as I am concerned, every day could be National aperitif day, but let’s go with this. Following are four recipes to try if you are a restless sort who wants to think beyond the ice cube and orange wedge.
These are great for kicking back on the deck, enjoying at a picnic, or serving before dinner. And you can always claim, as Katie and I did, that it is for medicinal purposes. After all, with warmer weather the mosquitos do tend to come out, and a little anti-malarial quinine can’t go amiss.
10 muddled grapes
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 parts Lillet Blanc
¼ ounce St Germain
1 part sparkling wine
Directions:Build in first 4 ingredients in Mason jar and lightly muddle thyme and grapes. Fill jar with ice and screw on lid. Shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Remove lid and top with sparkling wine. Add a straw and enjoy!
1 part Lillet Rosé
1 part dry grapefruit or citrus soda (Belvoir Elderflower & Rose used here)
Directions: Add first 2 ingredients to wine glass and top with ice. Garnish with sage and grapefruit.
1 Part Lillet Rosé
¼ part Simple syrup
Directions: Add simple syrup with fruit at bottom of pitcher and lightly muddle to express juices. Add Lillet Rosé and stir with ice to chill. Serve in tumblers or wine glasses over fresh ice or on its own.
4-5 lemon quarters
4-5 strawberry halves
½ part Aperol
¼ part simple syrup
2 parts Lillet Rosé
Directions: Add all ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake vigorously for 10 seconds and pour whole of contents, including ice, into a glass. Enjoy!