Discover: Lillet – The French Wine Aperitif
“A dry martini. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.” Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, also invented The Vesper — the martini Bond ordered “shaken, not stirred”. While Gordon’s Gin and vodka are familiar liquors, Kina Lillet may be more mysterious.
What is Lillet?
Lillet (pronounced lee-lay) is a delightful wine aperitif from France. Aperitifs were introduced in 1846 by French chemist Joseph Dubonnet as a tonic wine and contained the healing properties of quinine. To mask the bitter taste, Dubonnet added herbs and spices. Around the same time the Lillet brothers, Paul and Raymond, created Kina Lillet, which also contained quinine but instead of the Dubonnet blend they added wines and fruit liqueurs from the Bordeaux region of France. Served before a meal for the most health benefit, aperitifs soon became synonymous with a feeling of celebration, relaxation and comfort, while “waking up” the palate, and stimulating the appetite.
Maison du Lillet is situated in Podensac, a village in the Aquitaine region of Bordeaux, in southwestern France. Production is constant year round and consists of a blend of vintages to ensure a consistent taste from year to year. And it’s this taste that the famous and infamous adore. The Duchess of Windsor introduced Lillet to Paris in the 50s and traveled with a bottle in her luggage.
Enjoying Lillet: Red and White
Lillet, available in Rouge and Blanc, is similar to vermouth, but has the wonderfully distinct flavors of honey, orange, lime, and mint. It is best served chilled (as you would a white wine) and can be enjoyed on its own over ice with optional orange slice, or in a cocktail. As its popularity increased outside of France, many delicious Lillet cocktails have been created. Try the ones here or experiment on your own.
Lillet Cocktail Recipes
Lillet Basil Cocktail (Martha Stewart)
Le Petit Hibou (created by the Little Owl restaurant in Manhattan’s West Village)
- Equal parts Lillet Blanc and Lillet rouge
- Drop of Crème de Cassis
- Splash of Perrier
- Slice of orange
Other Suggested Uses for Lillett
Lillet Blanc is the perfect companion to appetizers such as smoked salmon, caviar, gruyere, and fresh fruit. It can also add a delicious flavour to desserts – adults only please. Lillet Marshmallows served up with coffee make a wonderful treat!
by Lianne Scott