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If you’ve not experienced it first-hand, then you certainly have seen it in movies. Ever wondered what and why those high-end (or should we term them proper?) dinners have their guests received with those mannerly served drinks just as they arrive? Ever questioned yourself what exactly those wine for dinner are? Do you ever question if they must be sassily served in those half-filled round bowls with flared lips?

Derived from a Latin word aperire, “to open”, an aperitif is defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary as an alcoholic drink taken before a meal as an appetizer.  

Where Did This Idea Come From?

Believed to trace back to the ancient Egyptian times in the Old Testament, aperitifs have long been served and believed to whet appetites and stimulate taste buds by people across the world. Back in the day, the Egyptians mixed liquor with spices and herbs that were not only aimed at stimulating one’s digestive track but also, boost hunger.

With time, even though this herb-spice mix has not entirely changed, smoother, classier and better aperitif-inventions have been made. France and Italy, for instance, were among the first places to adopt the aperitif culture, which they have kept and proliferated for over two centuries. Now, other countries across the globe have equally produced aperitifs of their preference.

To some cultures, an aperitif is a social event or a mini get -together occasion where families and friends just come and enjoy a good time together.

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How and When to Serve It

Depending on a culture’s consumption history and nature, most people prefer to serve aperitifs before meals, just as guests stream in, with the sole reason of giving them time to relax, unwind and socialize while others prefer to mix or serve aperitifs with food, and that’s perfectly fine. Regardless, some tips remain universal.

First, the fact that aperitifs are mostly wine for dinner means they are best served chilled and should at least remain so the entire consumption period (which is not long considering the amount served).

Secondly, an aperitif should be clear, light and dry; low in sugar content. This is so because, for one, the aim is to stimulate appetite and not limit it but as we all know, sugar is an appetite limiter.  It is recommended to be lighter because again, your aim is not to try to fill your guests’ bellies before they indulge in the food you have prepared for them. Therefore, the drier, the better and the more effective!

The third and most important tip is to have your aperitif easy on the stomach. It should be low in alcohol yet alcoholic enough to have your guests’ hunger levels agitated. A good aperitif contains a 16-25 percent alcohol content, which is a much lower level compared to other dry drinks like whiskeys.

Lastly, aperitifs should be kept refrigerated and have to be consumed within a few weeks of opening as they easily oxidize once opened. 

What Exactly is To Be Served?

There are no set boundaries and no single selected wine set to be served as an aperitif. The kind of drink served widely varies depending on your region, culture, consumption history, occasion or season and what you and your guests like. Some cultures prefer cocktails while others prefer to serve their aperitifs with a meal. The French, for instance, serve aperitifs alongside light snacks like crisps, olives or crackers. To them, it serves as a perfect time to catch up as they prepare for a great meal together.

Classified into wine-based (also known as aromatized wines) and spirit-based (also known as flavored spirits) aperitifs, they are flavored with spices, herbs, and roots and are great in cocktails.

Well-Known Aperitifs of All Time and Spice up Your Dinner

Campari

This famous and bitter herbal ruby red Italian drink whose origin traces back to the 18th century has been enjoyed in cocktails by many for a relatively long time. Its recipe is said to have been kept a secret since 1860 by its founding father Gaspare Campari. Because of its bitter taste, Campari is often best enjoyed by mixing it with another sweeter drink like club soda. Best served chilled.

Aperol

Also produced by the Campari Group, Aperol was first created by brothers Silvio and Luigi Barbieri in late 1919. It is a bitter aperitif with a bright orange-hued, a spirit-based lure that is well known. Though it has a bitter taste, Aperol is softer than Campari & it’s the perfect wine for your dinner. It is well paired with a well-spiced and flavored meal.

Negroni

Believed to have first been served in Florence, Italy, back in 1919, Negroni is a great cocktail aperitif made from mixing equal parts of Campari, gin and sweet vermouth and garnished with an orange peel. Best served on ice, making it an all-time favorite summer aperitif.

Champagne

This French wine serves as a great aperitif. Served best with little or no cream- sauced foods like fish and seafood.

Lillet

Lillet is a French wine-based aperitif that has both the red and white versions that got to the market first back in the 18th century. Lillet is made from a mixture of citrus liqueurs and Bordeaux wine grapes. Best served chilled with a twist of orange to make a great classic aperitif.

Vermouth

Originally used as a tonic drink because of its rich herbaceous nature, this herb-infused wine is by far the most prevalent and known aperitif. Produced by both Italy and France, Vermouth comes in red and white versions and is best served chilled.

Dubonnet

This French wine based-aperitif whose (red and white herb and spice-infused versions are best served chilled) was introduced in 1846 by Joseph Dubonnet by mixing spices, herbs, peels, and quinine.  It comes in both the white and red versions. While the white wine is herb-infused, the red one is rich in taste with spice and quinine flavors.

Martini

This Italian aperitif of distinctively classic drinks including the incredible Martini Rosso, Martini Rosato, and Martini Fiero is said to be served best before a great seafood meal. Cynar (which is pronounced “chee-nar”). This is an Italian cocktail drink made of artichokes and infused herbs thus giving it a bittersweet taste, is commonly served with another sweeter drink like soda and goes best with ice.

Rosé Wine

Made from both red and white grapes, Rosé wines are pinkish in color and are a good aperitif before any kind of meal ranging from chicken, beef, potatoes and chips and other quick fixes. They are quite fruity and rich in flavor. Pizza and grilled foods are a great combination of this aperitif. They make great spring and summer aperitifs and are best served chilled.

Gimlet

This light and refreshing cocktail is a mixture of lime cordial and gin. It is a perfect aperitif to be served before any kind of meal. Cordial lime varies in taste, so it is necessary to identify and adjust the sweetness to your preference.

Kir and Kir Royale 

This mixture of Champagne and crème is a great aperitif that provides one with a chance to mix an array of crèmes ranging from blackcurrant to cherry and peach. This is a perfect wine for dinner, This drink is refreshingly sweet and deep-colored. A classic cocktail is achieved when a dry, acidic and non- aromatic wine has been used in the mixture.

Cultures Differ

So do their aperitif preferences wine for dinner. The production and distribution of aperitifs are not as developed as with other beverages because not all consider aperitifs a necessity at their dinners. Not knowing what aperitif to go for and where to purchase one can be a challenge to many. Online purchasing can ease this burden as it provides an array of drinks to choose from. Regardless, always go for that which you like. For that which will put a smile on your guests’ faces, and for that which will leave them yearning for another invitation from you.