Did you know that today, May 17, is National Aperitif Day? If you did not, what on earth are you doing with your life? It’s a special day, a day dedicated to celebrating that most utile of beverages, the aperitif, an alcoholic drink taken before meals as an appetizer. A great aperitif does more than just stimulate the appetite and sharpen the senses for the meal to come, it cleaves the day in two, clearing the mind of workplace stress and ushering in a time of relaxation, conversation, and sensory pleasures. It’s a gateway to the best part of the day, and the better the drink, the better the evening to come. So pour yourself a good one today, such as the brand new Lillet Rosé, as I did before my dinner last night.
You might be familiar with Lillet. It’s a blend of Bordeaux wines, citrus liqueurs, and a little bit of Peruvian Chinchona bark liqueur. (Chinchona bark contains quinine, the stuff that makes your gin and tonic glow in the dark when you’re in a club lit by black lights, and was used by British Colonial authorities as an antimalarial.) Lillet was first created in France in 1872 as a white wine. Then, 90 years later, Maison Lillet introduced Lillet Rouge. They decided not to wait quite so long to unveil Lillet Rosé, which is just now showing up in fancy wine shops and bars across the U.S. There are a number of cocktails that use the various forms of Lillet (see the Lillet Rosé cocktails below), but perhaps the most famous is James Bond’s Vesper Martini, from the book Casino Royale:
“'Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?'
'Certainly monsieur.' The barman seemed pleased with the idea.”
So Lillet’s been around the track, and even if you’ve never tasted it, if you’ve seen the label you know there’s something iconic about the brand, as if it should only be sipped by well-dressed people in beautiful places. But that’s not how it happened for me last night.
I wish I could say I sipped a crystal goblet of Lillet Rosé on the deck of the yacht “Serene”, which just won the World Superyacht Award
in Istanbul, but my circumstances were a bit more modest. I came home late, sweaty from a long workout. There wasn’t much to eat, so I put together a ham and cheese sandwich and tossed it into the toaster oven for a few minutes. Suddenly remembering the upcoming National Aperitif Day holiday, I grabbed the bottle I’d been sent, unscrewed it (I love wines with screw caps) and poured some over ice.
It has a gorgeous pink color and refreshing aroma of fruit. And the taste, well, it’s refreshing too, like a cool breeze on a hot afternoon. It’s a smooth, mildly sweet wine with citrus and dark fruit flavors and a hint of watermelon. I enjoyed it very much, despite my lack of a superyacht. The bell on the toaster oven chimed, I switched on Jon Stewart, and had a pleasant half hour to myself as the family slumbered. It’s a nice drink.
The new Lillet Rosé has a suggested retail price of $20 and can be found in better liquor stores, as well as restaurants and bars such as La Gazzetta
, Brasserie Beaumarchais
, and Le Paradou
in New York’s Meatpacking District. Order it over ice with a slice of grapefruit, or try it in one of the cocktails below. Enjoy the rest of your National Aperitif Day, and start planning for National Digestif Day. (Surely there must be such a thing.)
2 parts Lillet Rosé
1 part Hudson New York Corn Whiskey
1 bar spoon gum syrup
2 dashes grapefruit bitters
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and stir with ice to chill and dilute. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a fresh strip of grapefruit peel.
2 parts Lillet Rosé
1 part Hendrick’s Gin
0.5 part true grenadine
0.25 part orgeat
0.5 part fresh lemon juice
2 parts soda water
Short shake all ingredients except the soda water with ice; Fine strain over fresh ice in a tall glass. Add soda water and stir to combine. Garnish with a straw and freshly spanked mint.
3 parts Lillet Rosé
0.75 part peach liqueur
1.50 parts fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice
Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme.