April 2006                               


Wines of the month - Paul DeRose

Aperitif Wines – Stuck in Limbo

Aperitif ( a-pair-ri-teef ) - an alcoholic beverage that is drunk before a meal to stimulate the appetite. Ideally, most wines are meant to be drunk with meals, but aperitif wines are not. In fact, they go best either with snack foods (chips, pretzels, nuts, etc.) or with nothing at all.

In magazines and newspapers when regular wines are being promoted, a phrase such as “makes an excellent aperitif” is often added, with the implication that the wine is not heavy, so it can be enjoyed by itself, but these are not aperitif wines. A true aperitif wine contains wine, but other things are added in small amounts to enhance the flavor, such as extra alcohol (it’s fortified), fruit juice (usually grape) to add some sweetness, and herbs and botanicals that are thought to stimulate the appetite. Aperitif wines are not to be confused with the more “exotic”, actually I think “strange” is a better word, aperitif liqueurs, which are spirit based, not wine based, and are more strongly flavored with herbs, tasting a lot like cough medicine in my opinion. These include Campari, Pimm’s and Cynar, among others, and are definitely an acquired taste. The most common true aperitif wines are vermouths, which we tend to think of as mixers only, but can be drunk on their own when they are of good quality. Pineau des Charentes is a less commonly found aperitif wine that is fortified with Cognac and is worth seeking out. Due to their sweetness, aperitif wines can also be drunk with dessert.

Below I have listed my favorite aperitif wines in order of preference. The next time you are in the mood for a cocktail or a beer, but are feeling a little more adventurous, try one of these on the rocks or with some club soda. All of these should be served cold. Note that red aperitif wines tend to be sweeter and heavier than whites. Also the most commonly found white vermouth is labeled “Extra Dry”, which I find to be too austere to be drunk by itself, and should not be confused with “Bianco”, which is tastier. Feel free to direct any questions or comments to me at deroseline@comcast.net.

Pineau des Charentes
• Pierre Ferrand (white) $20
• Dobbé Pineau des Charentes (white) $12

• Lillet (red or white) $15 *
• Dubonnet (red or white) $10 *
• Martini and Rossi Bianco (white) or Rosso (red) $8 *
• Cinzano Bianco (white) or Rosso (red) $8 *

* indicates available in Montgomery County