The best aperitif wines for your Aperitivo
Posted on 19 August 2020
Wait for the best meals with the best aperitif wines
As the French, Italian and Spanish people know for ages, there is almost no better moment in the day to relax, laugh, chat with friends than this very special one. Aperitif - or aperitivo - is literally sacred and always deserves the best aperitif wine whatever the features it takes.
Traditionally, the aperitif was advising the palate and the stomach that a meal was about to begin, through the combination of acidity, bitterness and botanical magic in the beverages. The typical drink had its roots as… a medicinal tonic —wormwood-laced vermouth as a vermifuge, quinquinas and chianti as anti-malarias! Just for the record if not for the fun (!), we should all have tasted once in our life a slightly bitter quinine aperitif wine-infused or flavoured with herbs like Pimm’s Nº1 in the UK, Bonal, Lillet or Byrrh in France, Campari or Cocchi Americano in Italy.
But the role of this ritual has evolved over time.
Nowadays - let’s say hopefully - we’re not so much fighting against diseases with alcohol anymore (!). The aperitif is getting more sophisticated than ever and eventually, it replaces the meal. The nuts have allowed space on the table for richer homemade local appetizers; and hors-d’oeuvres with dip sauces, antipasti, focaccia, salami, canapés, pâtés, cheese or pies have to pair perfectly with carefully selected drinks.
If some are spirits, many aperitifs are still wine-based.
And even though these above-mentioned bitter classics are making a come back in gorgeous cocktails mixed by the most talented bartenders around the world, the spectrum of choices has widened following trends and tastes.
Only one rule remains firmly irremovable: the best aperitif wine is usually meant to spark the appetite, stimulates without overwhelming. Therefore - and whatever the final choice - an aperitif is rather dry and light when a digestif is a higher alcoholic, sweeter, more full-bodied beverage (like dessert and fortified wines, Port, Marsala, Cognac…). When a digestive one closes the ball, the aperitif wine inaugurates it! They both serve a different but real purpose in the end… what makes it quite difficult to categorize a sweetened and flavored punch like a German May wine, a Spanish sangria, or a wine cooler in the US.
Once that said, wine-wise almost every style is possible as long as the nectar’s quality is sought.
Some fortified sherries (like a Spanish Fino) or even cocktails (like an Aperol Spritz or a Kir Royal) can make great pre-dinner indulgences. But if starting with a pure wine (which appears to be quite a good option not to mix so much alcohol during the night!), remember that the body-crescendo is still the key. Sparkling wine is the universal « chic » aperitif per excellence. The freshness, light structure, and bubbles make French Champagne, Italian Prosecco or Spanish Cava - all brut or extra-dry and well-made by renown small producers - absolutely delightful for this palate opening. In red, a good Lambrusco can be an attractive and kind of disruptive alternative. A white wine aperitif spices up the senses and the mind. A chilled, fresh, and fruity white with good acidity will always thrill you for the aperitif. It will suit well an octopus or pasta salad, fresh cheese toasts, and vegetables. If you feel really lost in wine translation, keep in mind that a crispy, grassy, herbal Sauvignon Blanc always works. A light rosé is the basic summer wine on a terrace or on the beach. Wherever it comes from, if it is fresh, lively and fruity, it’s the one that you want. A medium-bodied red wine aperitif brings excitement. Alcoholic fruity reds, not too tannic but still bodied, are perfect to preempt the dinner — especially in winter for a deep sensation of warmth. In Italy, we would go for a Sangiovese, Merlot, Montepulciano, or Bardolino for instance. That’s it. Aperitif wine is yours. Be in-the-know and play with it!