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Lillet Rouge

Lillet Rouge Apéritif


By Robert Plotkin

Lillet Rouge Apéritif is a rare drinking pleasure that has yet to be paraded about by the hip and fashionably elite. Lillet Rouge may well be the best-kept secret in all of mixology. Traditionally served before dinner as an aperitif, the venerable French import is also a versatile and dynamic ingredient in scores of popular cocktail recipes.

Lillet has been made in the town of Podensac in southern Bordeaux since 1887 from a blend of barrel-aged merlot and cabernet sauvignon wines, spices, cinchona bark—the source of quinine—and various varieties of sweet and bitter orange peels. The fruit is rendered into individual liqueurs by macerating them in alcohol and aging in wood. The wine and liqueurs are blended together—85% wine and 15% liqueurs—and matured in French oak for up to a year. It is bottled at 17% alcohol by volume.

If you haven't sipped this delicious fortified wine, be prepared to be seriously impressed. The ruby red, light-bodied aperitif has a generous orange, spice and vanilla bouquet. Its layered, slightly bitter palate is laced with the long-lasting flavors of raspberries, ginger, cinnamon and ripe plums.

Introduced in 1962, Lillet Blanc is produced with Semillon and sauvignon blanc wines and decidedly drier than the Rouge. It has the color of white wine and a lively bouquet of honey, flora and citrus. The palate is a flavorful mélange of spice, mint and candied oranges. The finish is long and a touch bitter.

Both versions of Lillet are sophisticated aperitifs with unlimited creative potential behind the bar.