APERITIF - a delightful prelude to a meal
The aperitif from the Latin word aperire (to open) is intended to be a prelude to dinner. It must stimulate the appetite and awaken the digestive enzymes for the coming repast. Aperitifs, may be fortified wines like dry white port – or aromatised wines like vermouth, Dubonnet, Lillet, St. Raphael or even Pernod, and anise-flavoured liquor that turns milky-white when blended with water.
A few gourmets reject aperitifs claiming that the dull the taste buds. They are really referring to liquor cocktails such martini or manhattan that are highly potent!
Aperitifs are generally low in alcohol content (16 – 22 ABV), and contain botanicals including aneglica root, cilantro, cumin, thyme, nutmeg and cloves. There are also bitter aperitifs that Italians favour such as Campari and Cynar.
Generally, Italians and Central European palates possess higher thresholds for bitterness, and actually like drinks and foods with slightly bitter flavours. Campari, invented in the 19th century by Gaspare Campari, is electric-red herbal liquor always served with water, and on the rocks.
Although very popular in Italy and to some extent in other European countries, Campari has never caught on in North America since North Americans prefer slightly sweet flavours.
Cynar, brown bitter artichoke liquor, has been around even longer. Italians ascribe to it many medicinal properties, and consume appreciable quantities.
Vermouths; elegant, spice-flavoured fortified wines, are excellent aperitifs so long as they are dry like white vermouths from southern France. (Noilly Prat comes to mind). Italian manufacturers in Piedmont like Martini e Rossi, Cora, Ricadonna and Cinzano produce huge quantities of red and white vermouths. The red versions are always sweet; the whites can be dry or sweet. Dubonnet, St Raphael and Lilley are French aperitifs with secret recipes. All were quite popular 30 years ago but now rarely does anyone seek them out.
Then there is sherry; Dry sherries (manzanilla, or dry or even oloroso) are excellent aperitifs that deserve better popularity. Tio Pepe is one of the world’s most famous dry sherries but there are others that are as appealing, if not more. Dry Sack, or Manzanilla sherries from San Lucar de Barrameda can be excellent aperitifs.
Sherry can be super dry or super sweet with every imaginable nuance of sweetness in-between.
When promoting aperitif sherries, make sure they are dry and well made. Restaurants that offer imaginative aperitifs generate more revenue help to relax diner, and gain valuable preparation time in the kitchen to boot.
Some restaurateurs like to promote a glass of dry sparkling wine or champagne, which can be an elegant and enjoyable aperitif albeit expensive, but you can also mix dry white Burgundy white with a splash of red currant liqueur, known as Kir de Dijon, named after Felix Kir once the mayor of the city of Dijon now famous for its prepared mustards.
Kir Royale is dry champagne with a splash of red current liqueur.
Aperitifs can be subtly promoted by perceptive servers familiar with selling techniques, but pricing must be kept at reasonable levels to encourage patrons.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu