(Aperitif in French)
The French call them aperitifs. The Italians, aperitivo. They are a delightful way to enjoy time with friends. The basic idea is the same as for what the iconic French chef at his eponymous restaurant often sends out to guests as a teaser before the appetizer – the amuse bouche. Amuse bouche would literally translate as “amuse the mouth”. From a culinary standpoint it is designed to make the palate wake up, make it tingle in anticipation of the meal to come.
In many ways an aperitivo (aperitif) serves the same purpose. They fall into many categories. Many restaurants or event planners will often serve a very dry sparkling wine as the aperitif cleansing the palate to get ready for the meal. Or they might serve a very dry sherry or vermouth type of wine as the wake me up for the palate. These can be served with light tapas as in the wine bars of Spain, with some simple salted nuts, with an amuse bouche, a little seafood, any of a number of foods. And many hosts will serve mixed as cocktails. One of the most common would be Campari and soda.
There a huge number of aperitivos or aperitifs. In France some of the best known would be Dubonnet, Lillet (floral), Punt e Mes (spicey). In Greece and France anise based liquors are used as aperitifs. Think Ouzo or Pastis (Pernod or Ricard). In Italy we find Cynar (artichokes), Campari (rhubarb among other flavors), and Aperol (orange).
Aperitifs/Aperitivos are generally based upon a dry wine (usually a dry vermouth or dry marsala or dry sherry) which are then infused with various roots, herbs, vegetal and /or citrus flavors, or combinations of these. The formula for each aperitif is usually a closely guarded secret. Many recipes date back hundreds of years where to a time when monks used to blend and develop formula in their monastic orders. The Benedictine monks came up with one of the most well known of these, still named according to the order, simply “Benedictine”.
A whole category of drinks in Italy are the “amaro”. These are similar to aperitivos in that they are based upon botanical formulations, and they are generally quite the bitter. In fact they are often called “bitters”. In Italy they are generally used as digestifs, taken after a meal with the goal of “settling the stomach”. These include Montenegro, Ramazotti, Fernet Branca, and Averna among a host of others.
These drinks, whether served straight up (champagne or brut sparklers), served straight over ice, or mixed into cocktails, are wonderful openers for and closers to a meal as well as being perfect to sip on during a warm summer afternoon while relaxing under the pergola, around the swimming pool or overlooking the beach.
A great wine is supposed to compliment the food, wine and food are supposed to caress each other and enhance the enjoyment of each of their flavors, enhancing the tasting experience. But to start or end the meal, tease the palate at the beginning, cleanse it at the end, settle the stomach, enjoy an aperif if you are in France and an aperitivo if you are in Italy. Or try them here in America and dream of far away romantic places.