'Tis the season to be merry! And sometimes merriment is best facilitated by getting your guests in the mood for - in the immortal words of Seinfeld writers - Festivus! Last weekend I had the pleasure of pouring a few holiday libations for just such a purpose at a public tasting event. (I had what happens to be my favorite Champagne Rose on hand, Lillet and two different Ports on offer; oh yes, I was captain of the Fun Team!) Much to my amusement, the Lillet was the fan favorite. In part this was because it's an aperitif that's been around since dirt bringing back memories for many, and in part it's because it's just so interesting. Leave it to a monk, Father Kermann, to "invent" it back in the late 1800's in Pondesac, Bordeaux. Fermann was also a doctor/mixologist, creating elixirs and fortifiers using ingredients like quinine. Enter the burgeoning region of Bordeaux where crazy ingredients like star anise, brandy, cane sugar, et. al. were then descending from all over the world (China, Gascony, West Indies....) and our friend Fr. Kermann is one happy camper! From this epicenter of creativity and fine ingredients came Lillet.
But let's back up for a second... An aperitif is an alcoholic beverage meant to begin a meal. Literally, it gets consumers in the mood for food by stimulating the appetite. For me it's also one of those 'balms' I've mentioned of late that has a welcome touch of alcohol to take the edge off potentially uncomfortable social situations, or to otherwise just get people in the spirit of the occasion (pun intended). It also isn't so strong in taste it will kill the next libation's flavors (e.g. wine with the meal).
On the Lillet bottle it reads: "Since 1872". Apparently there is no official recipe they use to make it year after year, instead relying on each cuvee to dictate the outcome. And apparently in 1985 they revamped their overall approach to appeal to modern-day consumers. Once much more bitter and slightly more sweet in flavor, today the aperitif offers a tremendously floral bouquet with hints of apricots and honey - it reminds me (and others) of late harvest wines. From there it delivers a surprising minerality, and notes of slightly bitter orange peel and apricots. (Technically speaking, it is made from the white wine Bordeaux grapes Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc (85%) and "fruit liquors" (15%). It is aged for 10 months (on average) in oak barrels.) I encouraged every person who approached my table to simply try it for themselves - and while each had their own reaction, nearly all was pleasantly surprised by it and certainly excited to add it to their holiday party shopping cart.