Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lillet--It's How They Spell "Cocktails" in Bordeaux

I don't drink cocktails most months of the year, since I prefer to start the evening off with a tiny taste of wine while I'm making dinner. In summer, however, all that changes. The evenings are so long that there is often a lag between when I want a little sip of something and when the kitchen is cool enough to turn on the stove. There are friends and family stopping by, the deck is so inviting, and suddenly cocktails seem just the thing.

If you want a classy (and classic) cocktail and don't want to abandon your wine habits entirely, go to the store and get yourself a bottle of Lillet, the aperitif from Bordeaux that has been made since 1887. Raymond and Paul de Lillet started blending Bordeaux white wines with fruit steeped in Brandy and a touch of everybody's favorite tonic, quinine. Today, Lillet is still made from 85% Bordeaux (both white wines and, since 1990, red wines), and 15% fruit-steeped Brandy and other liqueurs.

I received a bottle of both the red and white versions as samples, but a bottle of Lillet will set you back between $11 and $24 depending on where you buy it. Once you've got it home, you will want to chill your Lillet--whether white or red--a good, long time in the fridge. When you take the bottle out, pour some into a red wine or Bordeaux glass that has some cracked ice in it (if you want it to stay nice and cold) and then garnish it with a strip of orange or lemon zest, or (what I like) an orange or lemon slice. Have both? Stick them both in and you won't be disappointed. The folks from Lillet suggest placing the orange and lemon slices directly on top of the ice before you put the wine in to help keep the diluted ice cubes from weakening the flavor of the wine. I prefer to keep pouring small glasses, but the other method works well if you want to stop serving and keep drinking cool Lillet.

Once you pour your Lillet in the glass, here's what you can expect. The classic Lillet Blanc is golden in color, with aromas of orange blossom, lemon, and beeswax. The flavors turn a bit bitter--tending towards Seville orange, herbs, and tart Meyer lemon--but this is what makes the drinks so very refreshing. As for the Lillet Rouge, its fruity raspberry and red currant flavors are lifted by a nicely herbal note and are rounded out with a warm vanilla aftertaste. I suppose if I had to choose, I would prefer the Lillet Blanc but I'm glad I don't have to because both of them are a wonderful change of pace.

One of the best things about Lillet is that, once opened, the wine keeps for up to 10 days in the fridge without losing its flavor. So you don't need a house party for an excuse to try this wine-based aperitif. Open up a bottle, cut yourself a strip of orange zest or a slice of lemon, put your feet up on your chaise lounge and relax into the full deliciousness of the summer.


Jill said...

Lillet reminds me of my grandmother -- in a good way!

Heather said...

With the addition of vodka and some other dangerous ingredients, you have a Casino Royale, made famous last year when Daniel Craig/Bond ordered it in the movie of the same name. I tried one, but it was so strong I found it basically undrinkable.

Domenico said...

You can have the half-full bottle that's been in our fridge for 2-3 years. Now we know they do with their otherwise unsellable wine.

Philip James said...

I bought 3 bottles of Lillet Blanc recently (2 were gifts, 1 for me) - the person behind the counter looked pretty shocked and asked if it was "coming back into fashion"?

There are so many great aperitifs out there, but they see very little play in the US - its great that you plug it here.

Dr. Debs said...

Thanks for the comments. I like that there is something at once old fashioned and timeless about Lillet. I don't think I want Domenico's 3-year-old bottle, but I do think that with cocktails back on the scene with a vengeance it's nice to think of a wine-based cocktail for a change. PS. A friend makes up pitchers of Lillet with ice, sliced fruit, and some sparkling water and pours them on Sunday afternoons. Another great idea--a little like French sangria.