Summer is here and with it comes my favorite warm weather ritual: sipping a small aperitif outdoors before dinner. Of the many things that are nice to sip, my new love is the Lillet for its light, citrusy bittersweetness. It’s French, it’s classy, James Bond loved it!
Citrusy and spicy, with a honeyed texture and the golden color of a summer sunset, Lillet Blanc is the perfect pre-dinner patio drink for a lazy July day. I like it simple, just served over ice with a splash of soda and an orange slice. Ah, yes!
What is Lillet?
Lillet is a delightful wine aperitif from France, that comes in red, rosé, and white variations.
Lillet comes from Podensac, a small village south of Bordeaux.
In 1872, the brothers Paul and Raymond Lillet founded their Compagny des Freres Lillet, and though they didn’t sell their first bottle of “Lillet – aperitif de Bordeaux” until 15 years later, it has been flying off the shelves world-wide ever since. The Deuxieme Empire (2nd Empire, 1852-1870) was a great boom time for France both as an importer and exporter of goods, and it was during this period that Bordeaux first led the world in the wine trade. Not only were the techniques of production and bottling of quality wines being revolutionized, but local vintners began blending these wines with a wide variety of exotic spices and other ingredients arriving from the French West Indies, Brazil and West Africa to make all kinds of tonics, liqueurs and aperitifs that quickly became vogue in French cafes. Made from 85% Bordeaux wines (Semillon for the Blanc and for the Rosé, Merlot for the Rouge) and 15% citrus liqueurs (sweet & bitter oranges) and quinine, Lillet originally had something of a bitter flavor to it and was promoted under the name “Kina Lillet” as a tonic – kina, or kina kina (or chinchona) is a tree native to Peru and quinine is derived from its bark.
During the ageing process, Lillet is handled as a Bordeaux wine (undergoing fining, racking, filtering etc.).
Interestingly, it’s rare that you find Lillet served in Paris and if you ask around, you’d be hard-pressed to find very many people in town to even know what it is.
The Duchess of Windsor introduced Lillet to Paris in the 50s and traveled with a bottle in her luggage.
While I like to sip my Lillet over ice with a splash of soda water and a slice of orange, it is also a popular addition to cocktails such as the Vesper (James Bond’s famous take on the Martini at Casino Royal), the French Connection (Cognac & Lillet: both French, that’s why they work together beautifully), the Sunday in the Park (don’t forget the thyme to make it complete), the Baronial (deliciously bitter), the Metropolitan (it sounds and looks like a classic) and more…
I hope it’s a long, warm summer!