An aperitif (properly spelled apéritif in French) is an excellent way to start any meal or party. While outdoors firing up the grill or fire pit, it is a great way to unwind and relax and prepare for the culinary delights to come!
So what is an apéritif?
An aperitif is an alcoholic drink that proceeds a large meal. You can think of it as a beverage appetizer or hors d'oeuvre. Sometimes the term apéritif is also used to describe the whole intro course to a large meal, the beverage often served with finger foods such as olives, bruschetta, or other simple appetizers.
The purpose of the aperitif is three-fold, or more-fold:
- To welcome your guests (who doesn't like to walk into a dinner party only to be handed a nice cold beverage as a welcome?!)
- To introduce an air of celebration, relaxation and comfort
- To "wake up" your guests' palates, preparing them for the food to come and stimulating their appetite
You'd be surprised how a little aperitif can make you hungry and more exited for the large meal to follow.
So what types of alcoholic beverages are used as apéritifs? There is no one particular drink served as an aperitif and they vary by region and cuisine. However, they generally have a few consistent characteristics: they are generally lighter in body, fresh, lively and often served cool. Therefore they are refreshing, not too serious or ponderous and enliven your palate. There are exceptions to this rule. You can serve whatever you like to drink or you think your guests would like. But typically the apéritif is an introduction wine, not a drink you will continue to drink the whole night.
An aperitif can be a great start to your outdoor cooking party. Especially on a warm summer afternoon or evening, a cool beverage is refreshing and very pleasant to sip on.
Here are some examples of drinks often served as apéritif:
- Sherry - Sherry is a fortified wine generally made in Jerez, Spain. The lighter styles of Sherry, like Fino, Manzanilla or even Amontillado, are refreshing yet savory and definitely wake up that tired palate!
- Sparkling wine or Champagne - Champagne is a classic apéritif and it is definitely a way to add a sense of excitement and celebration to your dinner party. Sparkling wines also tend to be a great food and wine pairing with a variety of dishes, especially appetizers. While real Champagne (from the Champagne region in France) can get very expensive, there are many less expensive options for sparkling wines. I love Prosecco from Italy, a sparkling wine made in a lighter style which is very refreshing and fun to drink. Other options are Spanish Cava, sparkling Vouvray or California sparkling wines.
- Light-bodied white wines - Lighter, crisp white wines, served cool, make an excellent aperitif. Wines like Sauvignon blanc, white Bordeaux, Chablis, Pouilly-Fumé, Sancerre, Muscadet, Vouvray or German Riesling Kabinetts are great options.
- Rosé wine - A rosé wine is one which has some red color to it, darker than a white and less dark than a red wine. They are generally relatively simple but very refreshing and fruity when served slightly chilled. In the south of France, this is a very common aperitif, especially on a hot summer afternoon or evening. It is joyous and fun and a great match to many finger food appetizers. I definitely recommend a rosé for a food and wine pairing before a barbecue meal! Good examples are Bandol and Tavel rosés, both from the south of France. Do not confuse white Zinfandel or white Merlot with a true rosé, until you've had the real thing you don't know what you are missing!
- Flavored Liqueurs - Some regions in Europe tend to serve more alcoholic, flavored liqueurs as an apéritif. Examples include Ouzo in Greece and Pastis in southern France, both anise-flavored and often served on ice, diluted with ice water. In Italy, some bitter-tinged drinks like Campari, either on the rocks or with cola or orange juice are favored.
- Flavored wine-based drinks - The best example of this aperitif is vermouth, a wine-based drink flavored with botanicals. There are sweet and dry versions. Lillet is another brand of flavored wine popular in France and usually served on ice and is slightly sweet.
- Light beer - Not all aperitif must be wine or liqueur-based. It is very common to have a nice cold beer in a less formal setting like a barbecue. I recommend lighter-styled beers like lagers, pilsners and the like.
Whichever you choose, adding an apéritif to your evening of grill or barbecue cooking with friends or family is definitely a way to get everyone excited and comfortable and eager for the delicious meal to come!
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