The Aperitif: A Very Civilised Drink
I once met a woman who was adamant that drinking champagne first thing in the morning was very good for your health, ‘Say, half a bottle wouldn’t be too much at all. Champagne is so low in alcohol, don’t you know’. As lovely as that sounds, being an alcoholic, with too much money and time to spare, I reckon drinking that much champagne might take the fun out of it. The rare occasion, when we do get to enjoy something like that, is what makes it so tempting and delicious. Then again, maybe this is the secret to a long and healthy life. Winston Churchill drank champagne in the morning, and continued to do so all day, by all accounts. He is said to have drunk most of the Pol Roger 1928 vintage himself! So having ‘drinks’ probably wasn’t a thing for him.
I suppose the ultimate aperitif would have to be a glass of champagne. That’s all very glamorous sounding, but champagne isn’t nearly as interesting as so many of the obscure drinks that are made all over Europe. All those bitter drinks with such beautiful labels; the pristine aniseed flavoured drinks; the herbal vermouths so popular in Spain; and all the other fortified wines that really to belong to another age.
What makes the aperitif so attractive is much to do with the anticipation of it. The anticipation of an evening, and good food. It is the time of day when work stops, when you have the time to spend simply doing nothing but enjoying the company of friends, and watching the world go by.
It is funny how these drinks are often connected with certain fictional characters. Hannibal Lecter was supposed to enjoy a Lillet blanc, with a slice of orange. Hercule Poirot often took a crème de banane. There are so many of these old and bizarre drinks, you wonder who actually drinks them on a regular basis. Campari is an interesting case. As one of the many bitter drinks that have come back into fashion over the last few years, it is now the height of sophistication, with its woody bitterness and garish red colour. You would think the mysterious luminosity would put people off.
Drinks are especially nice if you have something to go with them. Preferably something very simple. I remember being in a sqaure in Aix, where the waiters would bring out little pieces of sauccison and green olives. Just plain, good quality un-pitted olives in brine. Having them this way means you can really taste the olive, and you don’t get your hands all messy. One of the tastiest things to have with a drink are salted almonds. Click here for an interesting method for making salted almond.
One of my favourite drinks is white port with tonic water, and lots of ice. White port, even when very cold, can be flabby, so adding a bit of tonic water turns it into a very refreshing drink. You see a lot of people drinking it in Portugal, and if its good enough for the Portuguese, it’s good enough for me. White port isn’t that expensive either. You can buy a good bottle for around £10. I usually just pour it in, but the quantities are roughly half and half. Whatever you do, don’t call it a portonic.