Leisurely lunches and dinners turn magical with an aperitif to set the mood and prepare the palate for anticipated nourishment. The word aperitif, derived from apero (to open) in Latin, is fashionable as much as the act of taking one.
In a harried environment people lack the tie to enjoy an aperitif to render their meal all the more memorable. In a society where food is becoming more and more “fuel” rather than enjoyment and conversation, time permitting, aperitifs can help bring back the civilized lunch or dinner.
There are a number of alcoholic beverages suitable as aperitifs, the idea being to imbibe a moderately acid liquid to get the stomach juices going.
Fortified drinks such a dry vermouths, specially created aperitifs (Dubonnet blonde or Lillet or Suze), Pernod, dry white wines, dry ports, even cognac with soda water or dry cocktails lend themselves admirably well as aperitifs.
In France, particularly in southeastern France (Cote d’Azur) there exist a unique aperitif culture. To the citizens of this sunny, easy-going region, a meal without an aperitif or even two means little more than filling the stomach, for the citizens of this Mediterranean region, a little carafe of Pernod with a little water and a few olives will do just fine. But they also like their rose wines to wet the appetite.
A little further west, Dubonnet and dry vermouths are popular and most distinctive due to their intriguiging flavors (Noilly Prat is an excellent dry vermouth well worth trying, as are dry vermouths from Piedmont further east in northern Italy).
For those who like a few salted almonds or stuffed olives, Suze or Lillet fit the bill beautifully. But why stop there a glass or two on manzanilla or dry sherry do wonders for convivial conversation and to prepare the palate for oncoming delights.
A dry Chablis, or Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire region will really set the palate to appreciate a good meal.
For those who like to start their meal with a cocktail Pimm’s No 1 – 5 are recommended.
If you like dry martinis make sure the proportions are 2/3 gin and 1/3 dry vermouth, for otherwise your palate will become numb. On the other hand, you can ask for a Dubonnet cocktail (½ and ½ gin and red Dubonnet) on the rocks.
Red Dubonnet on its own on the rocks is fine around 4.30 – 5 p m, but not later as it contains considerable residual sugar that actually helps satiate rather than “open” the appetite.
For those who like sparkling wine, dry champagne or any other bubbly create the right ambience. But you can also opt for Pimm’s Royal which is Pimm’s No. 1
(1/5th and 4/5th dry champagne) – a beautiful French and British collaborative recipe.
The French like a glass of white port on the rocks with a wedge of lime as a pick-me-up around 5 p m, but they also dine much later than customary in many North American homes.
It is time for the aperitif culture to make a comeback.